Blocked Tear Duct Or Conjunctivitis? How To Tell

by | May 14, 2018

Is it just a blocked tear duct? Or is it conjunctivitis?

As parents, we’re always on the lookout to make sure our children appear as happy and healthy as possible. Blocked tear ducts and pink eye (conjunctivitis) are not uncommon in children, but it can be difficult to know which it could be. It’s important to know the difference, as one is highly contagious and the other is somewhat harmless. So, how can you tell if it’s a blocked tear duct or conjunctivitis?


What Does That Mean?


Our eyes are constantly producing tears, not just when we cry. These tears that help to keep our eyeballs moist drain through small ducts on the inside corner of our eyes called tear ducts. A baby’s tear duct can become clogged, or in some cases, it simply did not open properly from the start. Either way, having a blocked duct causes their eye to constantly seem watery and have a white or yellow substance lingering. Doctors are not too concerned about this, as long as there is no inflammation or infection, the duct will almost always open up all on its own by the time your baby reaches 1 year old. Sometimes, after your baby has slept, their eye can be glued shut due to the yellow substance drying to their eyelashes, do NOT panic and pull their eyelids open, as this will cause great pain and rip out their lashes- follow the care instructions below.



How Can I Help?


  • If their eyelashes become crusty and/or stuck together, wet a cotton ball with clean warm water and gently hold it on the closed eye for a few minutes. Then, get a new clean cotton ball with clean warm water and gently sweep downwards along the lashes.
  • For general cleaning, use clean warm water to dampen a cotton ball or soft cloth and carefully wipe from tear duct toward the outside of the eye.
  • Massage your baby’s ducts by gently pressing on the inner corner of the eye in a downward motion, wash your hands well beforehand with soap and water and be sure your fingernails are cut short.
  • *Caution: Never reuse the same cloth or cotton ball on the baby’s eye, with each wipe use a fresh one. If you are pressing too hard or using something too rough, you may cause redness or irritation around their eye. Never use your dirty hand, shirt, or other unsanitary items to wipe tears from your child’s eye.
  • Seek help if there are signs of infection (swelling, redness in/around the eye, pus, a fever), if there is increased drainage, or if the duct doesn’t open by 1 year old.



Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)- What Does That Mean?


Pink eye can be caused by a variety of things, and usually stems from the same viruses and bacteria that cause ear infections, colds etc. Occasionally, especially in newborns, it can be caused by STD via the mother during birth. It’s important to note that a woman can have the STD bacteria in her birth canal, even if she has no symptoms, a simple prenatal test can determine this. The main symptom of conjunctivitis is its other name, pink eye, the whites of the child’s eye will have a red/pink appearance. Sometimes the child can have a swollen eyelid, sensitivity to light and may complain that it feels like sand in their eye (if they are old enough to communicate this of course). Viral conjunctivitis can spread as easily as the common cold before symptoms have even shown up in your child and can be contagious as long as the symptoms last, there is no antibiotic for the viral pink eye. Bacterial conjunctivitis becomes contagious as soon as symptoms appear and remain contagious as long as symptoms remain, or for 24 hours since the start of antibiotics. It is important to see your doctor to determine which conjunctivitis your child has.

Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)- How Can I Help?

  • Similarly to a blocked tear duct, you can use a warm cotton ball to clean the eye as needed (see detailed instructions above).
  • Use a warm or cool compress to place over their eye(s) to help ease the discomfort.
  • Help your child or baby (yes even baby) wash their hands, and your hands, frequently and thoroughly.
  • Wash pillowcases daily, and do not share linens or towels etc.
  • Follow the doctor’s instructions regarding eye drops and antibiotics for bacterial conjunctivitis.
  • If you’re pregnant, take the prenatal screening test for STD to help prevent pinkeye in your newborn.
  • Seek further assistance if there is a fever along with swelling, tenderness, and redness around the eye. This could be a sign that the infection is spreading.


Clearly, it can be difficult to tell whether your child has a blocked tear duct or conjunctivitis, which is why it can be super important and time sensitive to seek a medical opinion. The main differences between these two are that conjunctivitis will often cause the whites of the eyes to become red and the lids of the eyes to be slightly inflamed. Whereas a blocked tear duct should not have redness around the eye and the whites of the eyes should remain white. Of course, this can vary from case to case and each child may be slightly different, which is why it is best to get a professional opinion from your doctor before beginning at-home care.



I grew up on the West Coast of Canada and currently live in Northern California with my amazing husband and our beautiful vegan daughter. I love researching all of the amazing benefits that go hand in hand with being plant-based, so I was thrilled to find Raise Vegan and become an active writer for this inspiring team. When I’m not writing for Raise Vegan, you can find me on Instagram!


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