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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1] Associate Editor(s)-in-Chief: Fatimo Biobaku M.B.B.S [2]


Dacryocystitis refers to the inflammation of the lacrimal sac.[1] It is commonly a bacterial infection of the nasolacrimal sac/duct that occurs following partial or complete obstruction within the nasolacrimal duct/sac.[2] It is the most common infection of the lacrimal apparatus, and it is more common in neonates and females above the age of 40 years.[1] Common symptoms of dacryocystitis include epiphora, eye discharge, and the development of a painful lump in the nasolacrimal area. Timely intervention is often required to prevent the spread of infection to adjacent soft tissues which may result in preseptal cellulitis, abscess formation, or even orbital cellulitis in rare cases.[3]

Anatomy of the Lacrimal System[1][4]

The lacrimal gland produces tears, and it secretes an approximate volume of 10mL in 24hrs. Tears flow across the eye, draining into the puncta, canaliculi, lacrimal sac, and lacrimal duct into the nasal cavity. The valves within the drainage system are unidirectional, allowing one-way flow of tears only.


Dacryocystitis may be classified as:[4]

  • Acute- This is an acute inflammation of the lacrimal sac with tenderness and erythema of the overlying tissues[5]
  • Subacute
  • Chronic- This may be the end stage of acute/subacute dacryocystitis


Dacryocystitis is an inflammation and infection of the lacrimal sac. Dacryocystitis usually occurs following partial/complete obstruction within the nasolacrimal duct or in the lacrimal sac, and it is the most common infection of the lacrimal apparatus. Nasolacrimal duct obstruction can occur in any age group, and it can be congenital or acquired. The lacrimal excretory system drain tears from the eyes into the nasal cavity and its mucous membrane-lined tract are contiguous with the conjunctival and nasal mucosal surfaces which are normally colonized with bacteria. Following the obstruction of the nasolacrimal duct, stasis occurs with the accumulation of tears, desquamated cells, and mucoid secretions, creating an enabling environment for superimposed bacterial infection.

Nasolacrimal duct obstruction

  • Congenital obstruction- This occurs in 3–6% of term infants. The nasal end of the duct is commonly affected, and it can be blocked by epithelial debris or an imperforate mucosal membrane resulting from incomplete canalization of the embryonic duct.
  • Acquired obstruction- This can be primary or secondary
  1. Primary acquired nasolacrimal duct obstruction- seen in idiopathic inflammatory stenosis.
  2. Secondary acquired nasolacrimal duct obstruction- occurs as a result of trauma, infection, inflammation, neoplasm, or mechanical obstruction.


Bacterial Causes- Dacryocystitis is commonly due to a bacterial infection.[2] Bacterial causes include the following:[7]

The most common aerobic organisms

The most common anaerobic organisms:

The most common gram-negative bacteria

Uncommon bacterial causes

Fungal causes[7]- These are rare causes of dacrocystitis.

Parasitic causes- Parasites are not a common cause of dacryocystitis. Some parasites that have been documented to cause dacryocystitis include:

Viral causes

Differential Diagnosis[7]

Swellings in the region of the medial epicanthi can occur in the absence of infection. The following conditions can mimic dacryocystitis:

  • Dacryocystocele- Blockage of the nasolacrimal duct/sac results in the distension of the lacrimal sac. The distended, uninfected lacrimal sac is often referred to as a dacryocystocele or dacryocele.
  • Malignant tumors of the lacrimal sac such as:
  1. Squamous cell carcinoma
  2. Adenoid cystic carcinoma
  3. Oncocytic carcinoma
  4. Epidermoid carcinoma
  1. Papilloma
  2. Dermoid cysts
  3. Mucoepidermoid cysts
  4. Adenoma
  1. Hemangioma
  2. Hemangiopericytoma
  3. Melanoma
  4. Fibroma
  5. Fibrous histiocytoma
  6. Neurilemmoma
  7. Plexiform neuroma

Epidemiology and Demographics[7]


Dacryocystitis can occur at any age.[14] However, a bimodal age distribution is frequently observed, with greater incidence in neonates and individuals above 40 years of age. The peak incidence for adults is usually between 60-70years.[3]


There is no sex predilection in neonatal dacryocystitis. Dacryocystitis affecting adults commonly affect females more than males.


Dacryocystitis is more prevalent in whites compared to blacks.

Geographical Distribution

Dacryocystitis is common in tropical countries like India, especially in people of lower socioeconomic status.[3]

Risk Factor[7]

Predisposing factors for dacryocystitis are often factors that result in the obstruction of the nasolacrimal duct/sac, and they include:

Natural History, Complications, and Prognosis

Natural History

Untreated dacryocystitis does not undergo spontaneous resolution.[3] Dacryocystitis may lead to lacrimal abscess formation and other complications if left untreated.[3] Up to 60% of patients who have an initial attack of dacryocystitis have recurrent attacks of dacryocystitis.[4] Microorganisms such as Staphylococcus aureus are commonly implicated, probably reflecting a spread from the nasal flora.[1] Development of stones (dacryoliths) may also occur, leading to intermittent attacks of dacryocystitis (acute dacryocystitis retention syndrome).[4]


Dacryocystitis can result in the following complications:[3]

Rare complications:


With prompt medical intervention, dacryocystitis has an excellent prognosis. The success rate in the treatment of dacryocystitis via surgical procedures is about 90-95%.[7][4] Patients with acute dacryocystitis who do not eventually undergo surgical procedures such as dacryocystorhinostomy(DCR) frequently have repeat episodes of dacryocystitis.[1] Untreated dacryocystitis never undergoes spontaneous resolution.[3]


History and Symptoms

The history and symptoms of dacryocystitis usually include the following:[6][3]

  • Exquisite pain and erythema in the lacrimal sac region- This is very common in acute dacryocystitis.
  • Swelling in the tear sac area
  • Conjunctival injection and discharge
  • Epiphora- This is a very common symptom in chronic dacryocystitis and it causes social embarrassment due to chronic watering from the eyes.

Physical Examination

Physical examination findings may reveal the following:[4][1][16]

Laboratory Findings[16]

  • The diagnosis of dacryocystitis is clinical.
  • Culture: It is important to perform cultures from samples taken from the infected area. This can help identify the etiological agent and the antimicrobial susceptibility pattern. The best technique for sample collection is via transcutaneous aspiration of the lacrimal sac content. Other methods of sample collection such as obtaining secretions by application of pressure to the lacrimal sac at the level of the lacrimal punctum, and collection of the mucopurulent material found at the bottom of the conjunctival sac, entail a high risk of contamination of the sample.
  • Investigations such as nasal endoscopy may be required to inspect the opening of the nasolacrimal duct in the inferior meatus and also diagnose diseases within the nose.[4]


Medical Treatment

The medical management of dacryocystitis consists of:[14][1][16]

  • Application of warm compresses.
  • Medications for pain relief.
  • Empiric systemic antibiotics such as ampicillin-sulbactam, cloxacillin, or cephalosporins, are prescribed with pending results of antimicrobial susceptibility testing.
  • Application of broad-spectrum topical antibiotic eyedrop every 4-6hrs in the affected eye.

Surgical Treatment

  • Incision and drainage of lacrimal sac abscess if present.[1]
  • Endonasal dacryocystorhinostomy- For the treatment of acute dacryocystitis with abscess formation.[17]
  • Dacryocystorhinostomy[14][4]- Dacryocystorhinostomy is done after the acute dacryocystitis settles (usually within 2-3weeks). It is also the definitive treatment of chronic or recurrent dacryocystitis. A bypass conduit is utilized to drain the lacrimal sac into the nose during this operation. External or endonasal dacryocystorhinostomy may be done. Endonasal dacryocystorhinostomy is often avoided when there is obstruction in the upper drainage system or the canaliculi are anatomically abnormal.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 1.9 Durand, Marlene (2015). "Chapter 118:Periocular infections". Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases Updated Edition, Eighth Edition. Elsevier. pp. 1432–1438. ISBN 978-1-4557-4801-3.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Borgman CJ (2014). "Proteus mirabilis and its role in dacryocystitis". Optom Vis Sci. 91 (9): e230–5. doi:10.1097/OPX.0000000000000347. PMID 25036545.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 Wadgaonkar S.P., Patil P.A., Nikumbh D.B., Rathod S.S. and Sawat C.M. (2016). "Epidemiology of chronic dacryocystitis with special reference to socioeconomic status: A rural hospital study" (PDF). Indian Journal of Clinical and Experimental Ophthalmology. 2 (1): 52–56.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 Jeffrey, Hurwitz (2014). "Chapter12.15:The Lacrimal Drainage System". Ophthalmology, Fourth Edition. Elsevier. pp. 1346–1351. ISBN 978-1-4557-5001-6.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Eshraghi B, Abdi P, Akbari M, Fard MA (2014). "Microbiologic spectrum of acute and chronic dacryocystitis". Int J Ophthalmol. 7 (5): 864–7. doi:10.3980/j.issn.2222-3959.2014.05.23. PMC 4206896. PMID 25349808.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Bharathi MJ, Ramakrishnan R, Maneksha V, Shivakumar C, Nithya V, Mittal S (2008). "Comparative bacteriology of acute and chronic dacryocystitis". Eye (Lond). 22 (7): 953–60. doi:10.1038/sj.eye.6702918. PMID 17603466.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 Asheim J, Spickler E (2005). "CT demonstration of dacryolithiasis complicated by dacryocystitis". AJNR Am J Neuroradiol. 26 (10): 2640–1. PMID 16286415.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Assefa Y, Moges F, Endris M, Zereay B, Amare B, Bekele D; et al. (2015). "Bacteriological profile and drug susceptibility patterns in dacryocystitis patients attending Gondar University Teaching Hospital, Northwest Ethiopia". BMC Ophthalmol. 15: 34. doi:10.1186/s12886-015-0016-0. PMC 4396718. PMID 25880996.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Ali MJ (2015). "Pediatric Acute Dacryocystitis". Ophthal Plast Reconstr Surg. 31 (5): 341–7. doi:10.1097/IOP.0000000000000472. PMID 25856337.
  10. Comez AT, Koklu A, Akcali A (2014). "Chronic dacryocystitis secondary to Stenotrophomonas maltophilia and Staphylococcus aureus mixed infection". BMJ Case Rep. 2014. doi:10.1136/bcr-2014-203642. PMC 4069627. PMID 24951597.
  11. Freitas DF, Lima IA, Curi CL, Jordão L, Zancopé-Oliveira RM, Valle AC; et al. (2014). "Acute dacryocystitis: another clinical manifestation of sporotrichosis". Mem Inst Oswaldo Cruz. 109 (2): 262–4. PMC 4015260. PMID 24810176.
  12. Halawa A, Yacoub G, Al Hassan M, Byrd RP, Roy TM (2008). "Dacryocystitis: an unusual form of Mucorales infection". J Ky Med Assoc. 106 (11): 520–4. PMID 19058477.
  13. Durdu M, Gökçe S, Bagirova M, Yalaz M, Allahverdiyev AM, Uzun S (2007). "Periocular involvement in cutaneous leishmaniasis". J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 21 (2): 214–8. doi:10.1111/j.1468-3083.2006.01903.x. PMID 17243957.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Mannis, Mark; Holland, Edward (2017). "Chapter34:Dacryoadenitis, Dacryocystitis, and Canaliculitis". Cornea, 2-Volume Set, 4th Edition. Elsevier. pp. 396–402. ISBN 978-0-3233-5757-9.
  15. Pfeiffer ML, Hacopian A, Merritt H, Phillips ME, Richani K (2016). "Complete Vision Loss following Orbital Cellulitis Secondary to Acute Dacryocystitis". Case Rep Ophthalmol Med. 2016: 9630698. doi:10.1155/2016/9630698. PMC 5075612. PMID 27803829.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Pinar-Sueiro S, Sota M, Lerchundi TX, Gibelalde A, Berasategui B, Vilar B; et al. (2012). "Dacryocystitis: Systematic Approach to Diagnosis and Therapy". Curr Infect Dis Rep. doi:10.1007/s11908-012-0238-8. PMID 22286338.
  17. Lee TS, Woog JJ (2001). "Endonasal dacryocystorhinostomy in the primary treatment of acute dacryocystitis with abscess formation". Ophthal Plast Reconstr Surg. 17 (3): 180–3. PMID 11388383.