During the first few weeks or months you may notice a yellow, sticky discharge from one or both eyes. This is usually caused by a blocked tear duct . Most newborns’ eyes begin tearing by three weeks of age. These tears should drain into the nose through tiny tear ducts at the inside corners of the eye. A thin membrane that usually breaks open shortly after birth, allowing proper drainage of tears, sometimes covers the nasal end of these ducts. Often this membrane does not fully open, causing the tear ducts to remain plugged and tears to accumulate in one or both eyes. Fluid that does not drain properly becomes infected. If this happens, the discharge from your baby’s eyes will be persistently yellow, suggesting infection in the region of the blocked tear ducts.
Here’s how to unclog your baby’s tear duct. Gently massage the tear duct that is located beneath the tiny “bump” in the nasal corner of each eye. Massage in an upward direction (toward the nose) about six times. Do this tear- duct massage as often as you think of it – for example, before each diaper change. Massaging the tear duct applies pressure on the fluid backed up within the ducts and eventually pops open the membrane and clears the ducts.
If you still notice persistent tearing or yellow drainage from one or both eyes, during your well-baby checkup ask your doctor to instruct you in how to massage the tear ducts. If the yellow drainage persists, your doctor may prescribe antibiotic ointment or drops to treat this infection.
Blocked tear ducts may recur intermittently, but usually remain open by six months. Occasionally this conservative treatment does not work, and between nine and twelve months of age it becomes necessary for an eye doctor to open these tear ducts by inserting a tiny wire probe into them. This is usually a short, minor office procedure but may require outpatient surgery under general anesthesia. Discharge from the eyes in the first few month is almost always caused by blocked tear ducts; in the older infant and child, discharging eyes may be caused by an eye infection called conjunctivitis or, more commonly, may be part of an infection in the ears and sinuses. (See Conjunctivitis)