While doctors generally use eye stents as a treatment for glaucoma in adults, they also use stenting to treat nasolacrimal duct (NLD) obstructions in children. Blocked tear ducts don't usually cause permanent vision problems. But if tears can't drain into the nasal passages, infection that can spread to other parts of the face may occur.
What is nasolacrimal duct obstruction?
The nasolacrimal duct (tear duct) is the pathway by which tears leave the eye. Whether the duct is blocked or the thin tissue at the end of the tear duct fails to open when your child is born, the condition prevents fluid in the eye from draining into the nasal passages.
If your child is born with an underdeveloped or narrow nasolacrimal duct, tears draining through the small openings at the inner corners of the upper and lower eyelids can't enter the duct that drains into the nose. In infants, abnormal growth of the nasal bone also can be the problem if the bone puts pressure on the tear ducts. Tear duct obstruction often affects only one eye, but it can affect both eyes.
Although nasolacrimal duct obstruction is a common condition in newborns, it usually resolves on its own by the time a baby is a year old. When it doesn't, or if your baby develops serious or repeated infections, the doctor may choose to place a silicone stent in the duct, especially if other treatment therapies have failed.
Symptoms that your baby may have a blocked tear duct include:
Excessive tearing, which can range from a wet eye to tears running down your child's cheek
Red and swollen eyelids—there may be redness and swelling around the nose as well
Yellowish-green discharge from the eye
Mattering around the eye that can cause the eyelids to stick together
Infection in the eye's tear duct system—in some cases, infection spreads to the eyelids
Pain around the eye and nose
The symptoms associated with blocked tear ducts often get worse after your child has had a cold or sinus infection. Being out in the cold, sunlight, or wind can worsen your baby's symptoms as well.
What is the function of an eye stent?
Stents are tiny tubes made of plastic, metal, or fabric. An eye stent creates an opening in a tight obstruction, allowing fluid from the eye to drain. If an ophthalmologist determines that your child has nasolacrimal duct obstruction, he or she may recommend surgically inserting an eye stent to open the blocked tear duct. The procedure is short, but performed under anesthesia so that your baby is asleep. Since the stent is so small, your child won't feel it once it's placed. Placement of a stent helps keep the tear duct from blocking again.
A doctor usually leaves the stent, which stretches the tear duct, in place for up to 6 months. When it's time to remove the stent, your child may need a second short surgical procedure. But depending on the type of stent the doctor placed inside the duct to keep it open, sometimes it can be removed in the doctor's office. In most cases, the duct remains open after the doctor removes the stent.
For more information, contact local eye care professionals like those at Country Hills Eye Center.