Baby Watery Eyes - Blocked Tear Duct

Baby watery eyes and sticky eyes is a common problem. Luckily it is not usually caused by anything serious and the treatment is simple.

This page answers these questions:


What causes watery eyes in babies?

sticky eye babySticky eye in baby

Watery eyes in babies is caused by a blockage to the tear duct either on one side or both. The tear ducts normally drain the tears that the body naturally makes to keep the eyes moist. Tear ducts are narrow in babies and can easily block. When a tear duct is blocked, the moisture from the eyes can't drain because there is a blockage to the normal channel. The moisture therefore spills out from the eyes to cause watering. After a sleep, the tears appear sticky so it may look as if your baby's lashes are stuck together. 

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What causes sticky eyes in my baby?

When the tear ducts are blocked, there is no normal drainage of the normal moisture (tears) that keep the eyes moist. When your baby sleeps, the water builds up and can cause the eyelashes to become sticky so when your baby wakes he has sticky eyes. If your baby doesn't have signs of an eye infection (see below for the signs to look out for) and he does have watery eyes, the stickiness is due to the build up of moisture (tears).

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How do you treat a blocked tear duct in a baby?

Blocked tear ducts cause baby watery eyes and baby sticky eyes. In the first year of life, the best way to unblock a tear duct is to gently massage the tear duct and move whatever is blocking the duct out. You should massage gently with your index finger lying from the corner of the eye along the side of the nose - move it gently in downward and inward movements. After 12 months of age, if the tear duct remains blocked, it may need to be surgically unblocked.

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How do I know if there is an eye infection causing a sticky eye?

An eye infection like conjunctivitis can cause sticky eyes.

See you doctor if your baby has:

  • pus that is evident during the day rather than watery eyes that just seem sticky when he wakes
  • redness of the whites of the eyes
  • redness or swelling of the skin around the eyes

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Last reviewed 28 September 2011

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Dr Maud MD

Dr Maud MD (MBChB, FRACP, FRCPCH), a specialist pediatrician, provides health information and medical advice for parents of babies and toddlers. Read more about Dr Maud.

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