• Clinical science

Diseases of the lacrimal apparatus


The lacrimal apparatus consists of the lacrimal gland, which secretes the aqueous layer of the tear film, the lacrimal sac, into which the tears drain, and the nasolacrimal duct, through which the tears drain into the nose. Inflammation of the lacrimal gland is called dacryoadenitis and is commonly caused by viral or bacterial infections. The condition typically presents with conjunctival hyperemia, S-shaped ptosis, mucopurulent discharge, and discomfort. Dacryostenosis refers to the congenital or acquired obstruction of the nasolacrimal duct (NLD) and presents with excessive tearing. NLD obstruction can cause stasis of tears in the lacrimal sac, which predisposes to secondary bacterial infection of the sac, known as dacryocystitis. The diagnosis is usually clinical, and may be supported by bacterial cultures, imaging (CT, x-ray), and probing of the nasolacrimal duct. Treatment is often conservative (e.g., NSAIDs, warm compresses), but may also require antibiotics in cases of bacterial infections or invasive procedures to remove obstructions (e.g., NLD dilation).


Acute dacryoadenitis
Clinical features
  • Eye swabs: in patients with ocular discharge
  • Complete blood count, blood culture, viral serologies: in patients with fever
  • CT scan: to look for evidence of orbital cellulitis



Congenital dacryostenosis

  • Definition: nasolacrimal duct (NLD) atresia/obstruction in an infant caused by a developmental anomaly and characterized by epiphora (excessive tearing)
  • Incidence: up to 6% of live births (common condition)
  • Clinical features
    • Epiphora within 2–4 weeks of birth
    • Palpation of the lacrimal sac may cause tears to leak from the lacrimal punctum.
  • Diagnostics: clinical diagnosis; syringing or probing of the duct to determine the site of obstruction and remove the obstruction, if necessary
  • Treatment: lacrimal sac massage; dilation or stenting of the duct; dacryocystorhinostomy if other measures fail
  • Complications (of untreated dacryostenosis): acute/chronic dacryocystitis

Acquired dacryostenosis



Acute dacryocystitis
Clinical features
  • Clinical
  • Pus culture
  • Blood culture: in patients with systemic symptoms (fever)
  • Dacryocystography (DCG) : in patients with dacryostenosis secondary to trauma (altered anatomy) or suspected tumors (to locate the tumor)

The lacrimal gland should not be probed during acute infection, since this may cause bacteria to spread to to other locations.