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Health A-Z

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Harvard Medical School

What Is It?

Dacryocystitis is an infection in the tear ducts of the eye or in the tear sac, also called the lacrimal sac.

At the inner corner of each upper and lower eyelid is an opening to a small tube or tear duct. Tear ducts carry away tears that have rinsed the front surface of the eye away so fresh tears can come in. Your tears are made by a small organ above the eye under the upper lid. Your lacrimal sac is connected by a tube to each tear duct, and to the inside of your nose. Tears spill out of the eyes and into the back of your nose when you cry, although the tears entering the nose are not visible.

A tear duct can get infected if it becomes blocked and bacteria collect in the ducts or the lacrimal sac. A blockage near the nose also can cause excessive tearing from the eye.

Although tear duct infections can occur at any age, they are most common in infants, who commonly have a congenital (inborn) obstruction of the nasolacrimal duct. Infants with this problem have a narrower drainage passageway that will widen with time as they grow. Most children with the disorder outgrow it by the time they are 1 year old. If adults get a tear duct infections, it usually is because their tear ducts have become abnormally narrowed by continued growth of surrounding bone. The ducts are more rigid and less able to flush out the debris that can cause blockages.

Tear ducts also can become blocked after trauma to the nose or eyes, such as a broken nose, or by nasal polyps.

When a tear duct infection first occurs, it is called acute dacryocystitis. If a tear duct infection is not treated quickly or if it causes minor symptoms that build up over a long period, it can be more difficult to cure. The infection is then called chronic dacryocystitis.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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