Watery eyes, epiphora or tearing in babies and young children is not uncommon. If these are noticed only during windy conditions whilst outdoors, or when they are suffering from a cold or fever, they tend to recover spontaneously and usually do not need any intervention.
However, children can also suffer from a persistent watery eye from birth that does not resolve. This can affect one or both eyes and be associated with redness, discharge, sticky eyes, and involvement of the skin around the eye leading to considerable discomfort.
What causes watery eye in babies and children?
Persistent watery eye is caused by non-canalisation of the lower end of the nasolacrimal duct (or tear duct) through which the tears flow out of the eyes and into the nose and back of the throat.
In the majority of children, this duct opens up by itself before their first birthday.
If this does not occur, or if the child is in considerable distress due to their symptoms, the condition can be treated by a simple surgical procedure.
Watery eye treatment
The treatment of watery eye is called syringing and probing, in which a very thin metal probe is gently advanced through the tear duct until it overcomes the blockade and the whole system is then flushed through with water to ensure the tears can flow freely.
This is a very short procedure carried out under day case general anaesthetic. It has a high success rate (90-95%) but in some cases further surgery may become necessary in the future.
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