Table of Contents
It is very common for parents to notice that their newborn baby has eyes that are watery or sticky. It can be just one eye or both eye, it can happen anytime during the day or whenever the baby takes a nap. The most common case occurs when a baby is sleeping, their eyes become watery and when they eventually wake up the eyes are sticky and the little one has troubles opening their eyes. Most of the time this resolves itself without treatment but sometimes some kind of treatment may be needed. Let us look at what watery and sticky eyes in babies means and how you can help a baby that is experiencing watery eyes.
Watery and sticky eye are very common in babies. They are many factors that are incriminated in the appearance of this condition not only in newborn babies but in children and adults too. Often, watery and sticky eyes have to do with problems within the tear ducts.
Tear ducts are passage ways that drain tears that are secreted by the tear producing glands called lachrymal glands. They are found on each eye and are responsible for lubricating the eye by draining tears so new fresh ones can be secreted. Tear ducts are functional from onset of birth in newborns.
Because the eye is very sensitive, particularly in newborn babies, it need to be kept moist constantly so the surface does not get damaged. In order to prevent the eye surface damage and clean any dirt or external particles, a tear film is secreted and renewed all the time by the tear glands. So in babies, the tears produced are much more needed than in adults who can easily take care of themselves when something enters the eye.
Eyes become watery and or sticky when the tear ducts are blocked. The blockage of tear ducts can be partial or complete. When the tear ducts are blocked, the eye does not drain properly and there is excess of fluid stuck in the eye causing it to be watery and eventually sticky if the issue is not resolved.
There are two ways in which an eye can become watery: the first is when too many tears are produced and secreted like during crying, the second is when the tear duct is blocked. We will discuss the causes of watery eyes in babies due to the tear duct being blocked.
The most common cause of a watery eye in a newborn baby is delay in the development of the tear duct. Normally, the tear duct is supposed to open up at birth but delays in development can cause it to remain closed there by causing poor drainage of the baby’s eyes. About 5% – 20% of babies are born with underdeveloped tear ducts which go on to open up as they grow older. This condition can affect either one of the baby’s eyes or both of them. Congenital blocked tear ducts resolve without treatment within 4 to 6 months after birth.
Another cause of watery eyes in babies is abnormalities of the eye itself or the baby’s eyelids. This cause is very rare but easy to diagnose in the first days after birth.
As the baby grows older, the tear ducts complete the development process, open up and the blockage problem resolves. For most babies it takes some weeks post birth for the process to end, in other babies the problem can persist for months before it eventually resolves on its own.
Most parents tend to worry a lot when their babies have watery eyes and as such consult with the doctor. It is advised that parents wait a couple of weeks for the problem to resolve on its own before consulting a doctor. If the problem persists beyond 6 months of age, then take the baby to the doctor. Usually no radical treatment is required unless the problem has persisted beyond 12 months of age.
Usually watery and sticky eyes in babies are not a serious problem. As mention earlier, this situation often resolves on its own or with little helping techniques that we will discuss later. It is important to be on the look out for signs of infection that could spell out a potential problem.
There are different ways to help solve a baby’s blocked duct problem. The most recommended method is to allow the ducts to develop naturally. However, there are other ways of helping your child. Here are some of the methods that have proved to work:
Massaging the baby’s tear ducts can help open up the blocked pathways. To massage, gently apply pressure using your fingers to the baby nose. The movement should be directed downwards towards the corner edge of the nose. Generally, for the procedure to work, you need to repeat it at least 10 times a day. This technique helps with the development of the tear duct and it also assists with the movement of stagnant tears within the blocked tear duct.
Babies that respond to the massaging technique do not need further treatment.
It is common for a baby to have sticky eyes when they wake up from sleep. In the event that this happens you can use a moist piece of cotton wool to gently clean the baby’s eyes. Its recommended that you use cool water that has previously been boiled to moisten the cotton wool. This is a prevention method for eye infections like conjunctivitis.
You should be on the look out for eye infections in babies with watery eyes. Pink eye, also known as conjunctivitis can manifest by watery eyes. It is also possible that the baby gets infected while you clean their eyes. For all eye infections or suspicions of one, a consult with a doctor is imperative. The baby may need antibiotic eye drops for the infection.
When the blocked tear duct problem persists beyond 12 months, a procedure called tear duct probing is performed by an eye specialist. The procedure is very simple; it happens under general anesthetic. The doctor introduces a probe into the baby’s eye ducts and uses to unblock the ducts. This procedure is rarely performed as the problem often resolves on its own or with the massaging technique.
There are some potential problems that can arise when your baby has watery eyes:
This is evidenced by slight redness of the eye, it can come and go. No treatment is needed if the inflammation is mild.
Mild inflammation of the eye can develop into an infection. An infected eye is usually red and inflamed. The problem resolves through eye drops or own its own.
Watery eyes usually resolve on their own, however, there are some cases when you need to go see a doctor. You should seek a doctor in the following situations: