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Canalicular Laceration Treatment & Management

  • Author: Louise A Mawn, MD; Chief Editor: Hampton Roy, Sr, MD  more...
Updated: Sep 24, 2014

Medical Care

The wound should be immediately irrigated with water or saline. Consider cleaning the laceration with soap and water. Some soap can be toxic to the eye, so care must be taken when using certain soaps near the eye.

Tetanus prophylaxis must be confirmed in any contaminated injury. Rabies prophylaxis with both active and passive immunization may be necessary in certain carnivore bites; in most domestic dog bites, it is not necessary.

Postoperatively, most surgeons prescribe a broad-spectrum antibiotic, such as cephalexin or amoxicillin clavulanic acid. Some surgeons do not routinely use systemic antibiotics.[13] Considerations for using antibiotics should include the risk factors for infection. Patients at increased risk for infection include patients taking immunosuppressant medications or steroids and patients with diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, alcoholism, cirrhosis, asplenia, or any other systemic condition that affects the immune system. Additional factors that increase the risk for infection include the extent and depth of the wounds.

The US Department of Health and Human Services 2013 guidelines recommend antibiotic treatment for facial cat and dog bites.[14] Wound care includes topical ophthalmic antibiotic ointment 4 times per day and ophthalmic antibiotic solution 4 times per day.


Surgical Care

Acute microscopic repair with either an operating microscope or surgical loupes is required to reanastomose the severed ends of the canaliculi. In most injuries, this repair can be accomplished within 48 hours of the trauma. Successful repairs have been reported within 5 days of the injury. Animal bites should be addressed as soon as possible because of the significant contamination present in the wound.[15]

Repairs on children are best performed under general anesthesia. For most adults, repairs can be performed with monitored anesthesia with intravenous sedation or if an isolated laceration even local anesthesia. In those patients with extensive ocular adnexal trauma or more extensive injuries, general anesthesia may be the preferred anesthetic approach. Local hemostasis and anesthesia are augmented with nasal vasoconstrictors, such as 4% cocaine or phenylephrine soaked cottonoids, and a local injection of 2% lidocaine with 1:100,000 epinephrine (in adults) or 0.5% lidocaine with 1:200,000 epinephrine (in children) to the area of the lacrimal sac and in both the superior and the inferior medial eyelid.

Familiarity with the anatomy of the medial canthal area is essential for accurate repair of the canalicular system. Because of the difficulty in finding the severed ends if one is not experienced with these injuries, a wide variety of methods, such as instilling various fluids (eg, saline, boiled milk, antibiotic solutions, methylene blue, sodium hyaluronate, fluorescein), have been suggested. Laser guidance has been suggested as another alternative.[16] Recently, a modified pigtail probe, which combines both the rounded cannula and an irrigation port, has been designed to facilitate both identification and repair of the lacerated canalicular system.[17]

A study of 63 patients with traumatic canalicular lacerations reported higher success rates in patients treated with direct canalicular wall sutures compared with pericanicular sutures.[18] The modified rounded-eyed pigtail probe method of canalicular repair has been reported to have a 97.4% success rate in re-establishing the severed system.[10] Regardless of the method used to determine the location of the severed ends, they must be anastomosed to recover functional patency.

The puncta must be dilated, and a Bowman probe must be passed delicately through the canaliculus. The severed end of the canaliculus is a shiny white cuff of tissue at the edge of the lumen. Most surgeons favor silicone intubations of the system, with repair of the pericanalicular injury.[19, 20] Intubation of the injured lacrimal system has been shown in an animal model to facilitate successful repair.[21] Intubation can be accomplished with either bicanalicular intubation (either by passing the stent ends through the nasolacrimal duct or by using a modified eyed pigtail probe) or monocanalicular intubation.[22, 23]

Both the monocanalicular and bicanalicular approaches yield excellent outcomes.[24, 10] Care should be taken with repair of the lacrimal system, as unusual complications of passing the metal intubation probe have been reported.[25]

The pericanalicular tissue can be opposed with 7-0 Polyglactin 910 suture.[26] In addition, the medial canthal tendon must be repaired in its anatomic location, posterior to the lacrimal sac at the posterior lacrimal crest. If the disrupted tendon is not repaired, both the appearance and the function of the lid will be abnormal.



Consultation and treatment by an oculoplastic surgeon, who is experienced with the repair of lacrimal injuries, is recommended. Ophthalmic plastic and reconstructive surgeons are trained first in eye diseases and surgery; additional expertise then is obtained in the anatomy of the ocular adnexa. Injuries to the lacrimal drainage system can be quite complex and involve not only the tear drainage system but also the lid anatomy, including the medial canthal tendon. Associated injuries can include full-thickness lid lacerations or orbital fractures.



As soon as patients with isolated canalicular trauma recover from anesthesia, they may resume their preoperative diet. Trauma surgeons entrusted with systemic care manage patients with multiple injuries.



Normal activity can be resumed following surgery. If orbital fractures have occurred, the patient is asked not to blow the nose because it can cause orbital emphysema. High-pressure activities that require Valsalva maneuvers should be avoided because they can lead to ecchymosis in the lid area or even orbital hemorrhage.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Louise A Mawn, MD Associate Professor, Departments of Ophthalmology and Neurological Surgery, Director of Oculoplastic and Reconstructive Service, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine

Louise A Mawn, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Ophthalmology, American Society of Ophthalmic Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, North American Neuro-Ophthalmology Society, American College of Surgeons, American Medical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

Chief Editor

Hampton Roy, Sr, MD Associate Clinical Professor, Department of Ophthalmology, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

Hampton Roy, Sr, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Ophthalmology, American College of Surgeons, Pan-American Association of Ophthalmology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

Stephen D Plager, MD 

Stephen D Plager, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Surgeons, American Medical Association, American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery, California Medical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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Toddler who sustained a dog bite injury with isolated canalicular laceration of the left lower lid.
Postoperative (1.5 y after injury) appearance of toddler who sustained a dog bite injury with isolated canalicular laceration of the left lower lid. This photo demonstrates normal anatomy and function of the eyelid.
Canalicular system intubated with 6-0 Prolene suture prior to passing a segment of Crawford stent in a patient who sustained superior canalicular laceration from a fingernail injury while playing basketball.
Postoperative appearance of a patient who sustained superior canalicular laceration from a fingernail injury while playing basketball.
Canalicular laceration in the setting of a more extensive medial canthal injury in a woman involved in a motor vehicle accident.
Postoperative appearance of the patient in the photo above who sustained canalicular laceration following a motor vehicle accident.
Woman with tearing and medial canthal asymmetry after the repair of a laceration sustained during a domestic assault. An emergency room physician performed the repair.
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