Eye Conditions That Affect Infant Tear Production

Mom calming a crying baby in her arms
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Not making tears is rarely a true medical problem for infants. Newborns start making tears when they are about two weeks old, but often it is just enough to keep their eyes moist and not enough to make real tears that you can see when they cry. Infants often don't develop real tears that you can see until they are about two months old.

Eye Problems in Infants That Can Affect the Production of Tears 

If your baby truly wasn't making any tears, then their eyes would likely be very red, dry, and irritated. This could be caused by a problem with the tear glands (the lacrimal glands) or the lacrimal ducts that carry the tears to the eye. In that case, you would want to see a pediatric ophthalmologist as soon as possible for an evaluation.

On the other hand, if your baby has tears when not crying, then a blocked duct may be to blame. About 10% of infants have a blocked tear duct at some point, and it will usually go away on its own. If you notice swelling, redness, or pus around the eye, call the pediatrician immediately as these symptoms suggest that there may be an infection.

Blocked Tear Ducts (Dacryostenosis)

A narrowing or blockage of the tear ducts which drain tears from the eye into the nose can cause tear build-up. You will most likely notice that your baby has a watery eye, with tears running down the face when they are not crying. Importantly, the eye will not be red, nor will the eyelid be swollen, with a blocked tear duct. Redness or swelling indicates that there may be an infection.

Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis )

Pink eye in a newborn can be caused by an infection, a blocked tear duct or by irritation. The condition is most dangerous when caused by an infection, most commonly gonorrhea or chlamydia. To help prevent this, newborns are given erythromycin ointment to the eyes shortly after birth.

Glaucoma

Symptoms of childhood and congenital (present at birth) glaucoma include excessive tearing, cloudy eyes, fussiness and sensitivity to light. Elevated eye pressure, damage to the optic nerve, and potential vision loss are all concerns for children exhibiting symptoms of glaucoma.



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5 Sources
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  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. KidsDoc symptom checker: Tear duct - blocked.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Conjunctivitis (pink eye) in newborns. Updated January 2019.

  4. Aguilera ZP, Chen PL. Eye pain in children. Pediatr Rev. 2016;(37)10:418-425.  doi:10.1542/pir.2015-0096

  5. American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus. Glaucoma for children. Updated September 2018.

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