Skip to Content



James Garrity

, MD, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine

Last full review/revision Jul 2020| Content last modified Jul 2020

Canaliculitis is inflammation (usually caused by infection) of the canaliculus. The canaliculus (plural, canaliculi) is a short channel near the inner corner of the eyelid through which tears drain into the tear sac. (Each eye has two canaliculi, one for the upper eyelid and one for the lower.)

Canaliculitis may cause tearing, discharge, red eye, and mild tenderness. Redness and tenderness are most prominent at the side of the eyelid near the nose. The symptoms can resemble those of dacryocystitis.

Where Tears Come From

Where Tears Come From

Diagnosis of Canaliculitis

  • Symptoms and a doctor's examination

A doctor bases the diagnosis of canaliculitis on the symptoms and examination findings. A cloudy material can be expressed from the canaliculus when the doctor presses on it or the tear sac.

Treatment of Canaliculitis

  • Removal of infected material and irrigation by an ophthalmologist
  • Warm compresses and antibiotic eye drops

An ophthalmologist (a medical doctor who specializes in the evaluation and treatment—surgical and nonsurgical—of eye disorders) can often try to remove infected material from the canaliculus and then irrigate the infected canaliculus with an antibiotic solution. People should then apply warm compresses and use antibiotic eye drops. Occasionally, the infection requires surgical treatment to remove any blockage from the canaliculus.

Using Eye Drops and Eye Ointments

The person receiving the drop or ointment should lean back and look up. With a clean forefinger, the lower eyelid is gently pulled down to create a pocket. Eye drops are then dropped into the pocket, not directly onto the eye. When using eye ointments, a small strip of ointment is placed in the pocket. Blinking distributes the drop or ointment over the eye.

Using Eye Drops and Eye Ointments

Copyright © 2022 Merck & Co., Inc., known as MSD outside of the US, Kenilworth, New Jersey, USA. All rights reserved. Merck Manual Disclaimer