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Why are my newborn’s eyes goopy?
Q: My baby is a couple weeks old and one of her eyes started getting teary and goopy. Otherwise she seems fine. She’s breastfeeding and sleeping well. What is this? Does she need any treatment for it?
Pamela Louisville
A: Pamela, it sounds like your baby probably has a blocked tear duct, technically known as “nasolacrimal duct obstruction.” This is common in babies, usually in the first few weeks of life, and is usually nothing to worry about.

Our eyes are constantly making tears to lubricate, clean and protect the eyes. The tears are made in the tear glands around the eyes. They bathe the eyes, and they drain out through the tear ducts and flow out into the nose.

In many babies, the tear duct isn’t completely developed at birth. The baby’s tear duct can be naturally narrow or it can be plugged by swelling or mucus. When this happens, the tears can’t flow out through the tear duct so they back up and cause wetness and mucus around the eyes. When this dries, it can appear crusty. Sometimes this can lead to an infection of the tear duct or the conjunctiva lining of the eye.

Be sure to have your baby’s doctor examine your daughter. If this is just a simple blocked tear duct, the usual treatment is to gently clean her eyelids with a clean, warm, moist washcloth. You can also gently massage her tear ducts two to three times a day. With a clean finger, gently stroke the area from the inside corner of her eye downward to the bridge of her nose. If the doctor determines that your baby also has an infection, she might prescote antibiotic eye drops or ointment.

Usually, the blocked tear ducts open up on their own as the baby grows over the first few months of life. If the problems continue past 1 year of age, your baby’s doctor might recommend consultation with a pediatric ophthalmologist about a procedure to help open up the tear ducts.

Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician