What causes a blocked tear duct in an adult?

Updated November 22, 2016

What if you had no tears to shed at a wedding? What if you just felt like a good cry but you could not weep? The answer to these question just might be a blocked tear duct. Children are most often affected by this ailment and thankfully it often clears up as they mature. However adults who have blocked tear ducts need to determine the cause and seek treatment quickly.

Why We Cry

We cry for many different reason. We cry when we are hurt, when we are sad, when we are happy and sometimes we just cry for no reason. Whatever the reason, tears do have a function. Tears lubricate the eyeball and the eyelid. They prevent dehydration in the eyes. Tears coat and soothe the eyes.

Tears Relieve Stress

Crying produces tears, and tears and a good cry relieve stress. Tears actually remove chemicals that build up in the body during times of stress. A blocked tear duct will cause tears to back up and accumulate. Tears are normally drained into the nose, when blocked, they overflow onto the cheeks.


The most common and usual symptom of a blocked tear duct is increased tearing. Tears will drain and flow onto the face and down the cheeks. A blocked tear duct can be found in a standard eye exam. Sometimes a special X-ray will be done to examine the duct.


In adults, a blocked tear duct can be caused by an infection, by an injury to or around the eye or by a tumour. Nasal infections and conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, can damage the tear duct. Any trauma to the eye may also cause a blockage. Since a tumour is a possible cause, medical treatment is always advised.

Complications and Treatments

A blocked tear duct may increase the risk of eye infections. In adults the tear duct may reopen by treating the cause (infection, damage, tumour). Often massaging the sac around the eye may work. Sometime surgery is required.


A person who cries "crocodile tears" is crying tears out of insincerity or that are meant to gather sympathy. Crocodiles do shed tears and when they have been out of water for an extended length of time. Their eyes begin to dry out and tears will from in their ducts.

Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author