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Mucus in Infant's Eyes
Q: I have a seven-week-old son and his eyes keep getting mucus in them all the time. I clean them and then ten minutes later, they are the same way. I confront my doctor and they keep on saying his tear ducts are overworking. But they have been doing this for the last five weeks. My step-mother thinks he might have an infection in them since that is what has happened to my half-sister. What do you think?
A: It is difficult to give you an exact answer without actually seeing your son. However, it sounds from your description like your son may have a problem that we call dacrostenosis, which is a blockage of the tear ducts. It's not that the tear ducts are over working but that they get plugged and don't drain the tears and mucus from the eye properly. Thus, that material accumulates in the eye. It is sometimes difficult to sort out the difference between this and an infection in the eye. However, the usual difference is that an infection in the eye will cause the eye, meaning the white part of the eye, to be very red. Also, with an infection, the amount of drainage and discharge is usually much greater.
Given that he has been having this problem for five weeks, it is less likely to be an infection and more likely to be dacrostenosis. There is not much to do for this but to allow the child to grow and allow the ducts to open up a little bit more as the baby gets older. Very rarely, in some children, the ducts don't open up on their own and an ophthalmologist will need to open up the duct with a probe. Some people recommend using your finger to massage the duct below the lower corner of the eye where it meets the nose, in an attempt to help open up the tear duct. However, I would recommend discussing this with your physician prior to starting this.
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Shari Nethersole is a physician at Children's Hospital, Boston, and an instructor in Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. She graduated from Yale University and Harvard Medical School, and did her internship and residency at Children's Hospital, Boston. As a pediatrician, she tries to work with parents to identify and address their concerns.