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Disorders of the Nasal Cavity and Tear Ducts in Horses


Kirk N. Gelatt

, VMD, DACVO, Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Florida

Reviewed/Revised Apr 2019 | Modified Oct 2022

The lacrimal or tear gland, located at the top outer edge of the eye, produces the watery portion of tears. Nasolacrimal ducts allow tears to drain from each eye into the nose. Disorders of these structures can lead to eyes that water excessively or to dry eyes. They may be congenital (present at birth) or caused by infection, foreign objects in the eye, or trauma.

Absence of Nasal Tear Duct Openings

A congenital absence of the opening of the nasal tear duct at the lower end in the nose is a common cause of watering eyes and longterm conjunctivitis Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye) The conjunctiva is a thin membrane that lines the inside of the eyelids and extends to the cornea of the eye. It plays a role in the movement of tears and the eye, providing protection for the... read more ("pink eye") in foals. Therapy consists of surgically opening the blocked passage and keeping it open by inserting a tube during healing.

Inflammation of the Tear Sac (Dacryocystitis)

Inflammation of the tear sac is usually caused by obstruction of the tear sac (nasolacrimal sac) and the attached nasal tear duct by inflammatory debris, foreign objects, or masses pressing on the duct. It results in watering eyes, conjunctivitis that is resistant to treatment, and occasionally a draining opening in the middle of the lower eyelid. If your veterinarian suspects an obstruction of the duct, he or she may attempt to unblock it by flushing it with sterile water or a saline solution. X-rays of the skull after injection of a dye into the duct may be necessary to determine the site, cause, and outlook of longterm obstructions. The usual therapy consists of keeping the duct unblocked (which may include inserting a tube into the duct during healing) and using eyedrops containing antibiotics. When the duct is permanently damaged, a new drainage pathway can be created surgically to empty tears into the nose, sinus, or mouth.

Dry Eye (Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca)

The condition known as dry eye is caused by inadequate tear production. It frequently results in persistent, mucus and pus-filled conjunctivitis and slow-healing sores and scarring on the cornea. In horses, dry eye may occur due to head trauma. Topical therapy consists of artificial tear solutions, ointments, and, if there are no sores on the cornea, combination antibiotic/steroid medication. In longterm dry eye resistant to medical therapy, parotid duct transplantation surgery may be recommended.

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