Lacrimal Sump Syndrome

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The lacrimal sump syndrome is a cause of failed dacryocystorhinostomy surgery (DCR). It occurs when a remnant pouch of lacrimal sac retains tears and interrupts transit into the nose. When recognized, surgical revision is usually straightforward and successful.

Disease Entity

Lacrimal sump syndrome


Lacrimal sump syndrome


Lacrimal sump syndrome occurs following DCR when the lacrimal sac is incompletely opened, or when mucosal healing leads to re-approximation of cut surfaces. It may be seen following both external and endonasal DCR.

Risk Factors

Inadequate bony osteotomy and poor exposure of the dependent inferior portion of the lacrimal sac.

Incomplete opening of the lacrimal sac.

Inadequate securing of proper mucosal flap position.

Intranasal adhesions.


Tear transit through the lacrimal system is stalled as tears collect in the remnant lacrimal sac before overflow and nasal drainage.

Primary prevention

Adequate bony osteotomy allowing complete opening of the lacrimal sac. Some authors advocate opening the superior portion of the nasolacrimal duct.

Secure placement of mucosal flaps to prevent sac reformation.

Management of intranasal pathology (ex. corticosteroid spray, partial middle turbinate resection) to limit adhesion.


Lacrimal sump syndrome may be suspected on clinical grounds and confirmed by dacryocystogram or endonasal examination.

Clinical diagnosis

Patients experience epiphora following DCR. Pressure over the medial canthus may expel the collected fluid from the sac and into the nose, which may be felt by the patient. This can lead to transient improvement in tearing.

Diagnostic procedures

Irrigation frequently suggests patency.

Dye disappearance test may show delayed transit.

Dacryocystogram (DCG) will demonstrate contrast entering the nose, but also retained in the lacrimal sac remnant, which is usually dilated.

Endoscopic endonasal examination with probing of the upper system can demonstrate the residual sac. Endoscopic examination of dye transit can also be useful when possible.

Differential diagnosis

Common canalicular obstruction

Scarring of osteotomy site

Incomplete clearance of anterior ethmoidal air cell

Intranasal adhesion

Lacrimal pump failure

Reflex tearing


If the tearing is sufficient for the patient to request treatment, surgery is required.


Re-operation to address the sump syndrome can be performed through an external or endonasal approach. Cutting into the residual sac will disclose retained mucoid material. Additional bone removal may be required in order to open the sac completely. Care should be taken to prevent reformation. This may require mucosal excision, or flaps oriented with wide spacing.


Potentially the same as primary DCR; however, expected to be less frequent given the reduced tissue manipulation involved.


Small series have reported very high rates of success with surgery.


Welham RAN, Wulc AE. Management of unsuccessful lacrimal surgery. Br J Ophthalmol 1987;71:152-157.

Jordan DR, McDonald H. Failed dacryocystorhinostomy: the sump syndrome. Ophthalmic Surg 1993;24:692-693.

Migliori ME. Endoscopic evaluation and management of the lacrimal sump syndrome. Ophthal Plast Reconstr Surg 1997;13:281-284.