Objective: To compare the cost-effectiveness of 2 approaches for treating unilateral nasolacrimal duct obstruction (NLDO).
Methods: One hundred sixty-three infants aged 6 to less than 10 months with unilateral NLDO were randomly assigned to receive immediate office-based nasolacrimal duct probing (n = 82) or 6 months of observation/nonsurgical management (n = 81) followed by probing in a facility for persistent symptoms.
Main outcome measures: Treatment success was defined as the absence of clinical signs of NLDO (epiphora, increased tear lake, mucous discharge) on masked examination at age 18 months. Cost of treatment between randomization and age 18 months included costs for all surgical procedures and medications.
Results: In the observation/deferred facility-probing group, NLDO resolved within 6 months without surgery in 44 of the 67 patients (66%; 95% CI, 54% to 76%) who completed the 6-month visit. Twenty-two (27%) of the 81 patients in the observation/deferred facility-probing group underwent surgery, 4 of whom were operated on within the initial 6 months. At age 18 months, 69 of 75 patients (92%) in the immediate office-probing group were treatment successes, compared with 58 of 71 observation/deferred facility-probing group patients (82%) (10% difference in success; 95% CI, -1% to 21%). The mean cost of treatment was $562 in the immediate office-probing group compared with $701 in the observation/deferred facility-probing group (difference, -$139; 95% CI, -$377 to $94). The immediate office-probing group experienced 3.0 fewer months of symptoms (95% CI, -1.8 to -4.0).
Conclusions: The immediate office-probing approach is likely more cost-effective than observation followed by deferred facility probing if needed. Adoption of the immediate office-probing approach would result in probing in approximately two-thirds of infants whose obstruction would have resolved within 6 months of nonsurgical management, but would largely avoid the need for probing under general anesthesia.
Application to clinical practice: Although unilateral NLDO often resolves without surgery, immediate office probing is an effective and potentially cost-saving treatment option.
Trial registration: clinicaltrials.gov Identifier: NCT00780741.