Merck Manual

Please confirm that you are a health care professional

honeypot link



James Garrity

, MD, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science

Reviewed/Revised May 2022 | Modified Sep 2022
Topic Resources

Canaliculitis is inflammation of the canaliculus.

Anatomy of the lacrimal system

Anatomy of the lacrimal system

Etiology of Canaliculitis

The most common cause of canaliculitis is infection with Actinomyces israelii, a gram-positive bacillus with fine branching filaments, but other bacteria, fungi (eg, Candida albicans), and viruses (eg, herpes simplex) may be causative. An increasingly common cause of canaliculitis is a retained punctal plug (inserted as treatment for dry eyes) that has migrated into the canaliculus from the punctum.

Symptoms and Signs of Canaliculitis

Symptoms and signs are tearing, discharge, red eye (especially nasally), and mild tenderness over the involved side.

Diagnosis of Canaliculitis

  • Clinical evaluation

Diagnosis is suspected based on symptoms and signs, expression of turbid secretions with pressure over the lacrimal sac and canaliculus, and a gritty sensation caused by necrotic material that can be felt during probing of the lacrimal system.

Canaliculitis can be differentiated from dacryocystitis Dacryocystitis Dacryocystitis is infection of the lacrimal sac that sometimes leads to abscess formation. The usual cause is a staphyloccocal or streptococcal species, typically as a consequence of nasolacrimal... read more Dacryocystitis . In canaliculitis, the punctum and canaliculus are red and swollen; in dacryocystitis, the punctum and canaliculus are normal, but a red, swollen, tender mass is located in or near the lacrimal sac.

Treatment of Canaliculitis

  • Supportive measures (eg, warm compresses)

  • Antibiotics

  • Sometimes, surgery to remove concretions or foreign bodies

Treatment of canaliculitis is warm compresses, irrigation of the canaliculus with antibiotic solution, and removal of any concretions or foreign bodies, which usually requires surgery (often done in the office with a local anesthetic). Antibiotic selection is usually empiric with a 1st-generation cephalosporin or penicillinase-resistant synthetic penicillin but may be guided by culture of irrigation samples.

Key Points

  • Common causes of canaliculitis are infection or retained punctal plug.

  • Patients often have tearing, discharge, red eye (especially nasally), and mild tenderness over the involved side.

  • On examination, secretions may be expressed when pressure is applied to the lacrimal sac and canaliculus and a gritty sensation is felt by the patient when the lacrimal system is probed.

  • Treatment includes supportive measures, such as compresses, antibiotics, and sometimes surgery.

NOTE: This is the Professional Version. CONSUMERS: View Consumer Version
quiz link

Test your knowledge

Take a Quiz!