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Schirmer test

Tear test; Tearing test; Dry eye test; Basal secretion test; Sjögren - Schirmer; Schirmer's test

The Schirmer test determines whether the eye produces enough tears to keep it moist.

How the Test is Performed

The eye doctor will place the end of a special paper strip inside the lower eyelid of each eye. Both eyes are tested at the same time. Before the test, you will be given numbing eye drops to prevent your eyes from tearing due to irritation from the paper strips.

The exact procedure may vary. Most often, the eyes are closed for 5 minutes. Close your eyes gently. Closing the eyes tightly or rubbing the eyes during the test can cause abnormal test results.

After 5 minutes, the doctor removes the paper and measures how much of it has become moist.

Sometimes the test is done without numbing drops to test for other types of tear problems.

The phenol red thread test is similar to the Schirmer test, except that red strips of special thread are used instead of paper strips. Numbing drops are not needed. The test takes 15 seconds.

How to Prepare for the Test

You will be asked to remove your glasses or contact lenses before the test.

How the Test will Feel

Some people find that holding the paper against the eye is irritating or mildly uncomfortable. The numbing drops often sting at first.

Why the Test is Performed

This test is used when the eye doctor suspects you have dry eye. Symptoms include dryness of the eyes or excessive watering of the eyes.

Normal Results

More than 10 mm of moisture on the filter paper after 5 minutes is a sign of normal tear production. Both eyes normally release the same amount of tears.

What Abnormal Results Mean

Dry eyes may result from:

Risks

There are no risks with this test.

Considerations

DO NOT rub the eyes for at least 30 minutes after the test. Leave contact lenses out for at least 2 hours after the test.

Even though the Schirmer test has been available for more than 100 years, several studies show that it does not properly identify a large group of people with dry eye. Newer and better tests are being developed. One test measures a molecule called lactoferrin. People with low tear production and dry eye have low levels of this molecule.

Another test measures tear osmolarity, or how concentrated the tears are. The higher the osmolarity, the more likely it is that you have dry eye.

References

Akpek EK, Amescua G, Farid M, et al; American Academy of Ophthalmology Preferred Practice Pattern Cornea and External Disease Panel. Dry eye syndrome Preferred Practice Pattern. Ophthalmology. 2019;126(1):286-334. PMID: 30366798 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30366798.

Bohm KJ, Djalilian AR, Pflugfelder SC, Starr CE. Dry eye. In: Mannis MJ, Holland EJ, eds. Cornea: Fundamentals, Diagnosis and Management. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 33.

Feder RS, Olsen TW, Prum BE Jr, et al. Comprehensive adult medical eye evaluation Preferred Practice Pattern guidelines. Ophthalmology. 2016;123(1):209-236. PMID: 26581558 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26581558.

  • Eye

    Eye - illustration

    The eye is the organ of sight, a nearly spherical hollow globe filled with fluids (humors). The outer layer or tunic (sclera, or white, and cornea) is fibrous and protective. The middle layer (choroid, ciliary body and the iris) is vascular. The innermost layer (the retina) is nervous or sensory. The fluids in the eye are divided by the lens into the vitreous humor (behind the lens) and the aqueous humor (in front of the lens). The lens itself is flexible and suspended by ligaments which allow it to change shape to focus light on the retina, which is composed of sensory neurons.

    Eye

    illustration

  • Schirmer's test

    Schirmer's test - illustration

    Schirmer's test is used to determine whether the eye produces enough tears to keep it moist. The test is performed by placing filter paper inside the lower lid of the eye. After 5 minutes, the paper is removed and tested for its moisture content.

    Schirmer's test

    illustration

    • Eye

      Eye - illustration

      The eye is the organ of sight, a nearly spherical hollow globe filled with fluids (humors). The outer layer or tunic (sclera, or white, and cornea) is fibrous and protective. The middle layer (choroid, ciliary body and the iris) is vascular. The innermost layer (the retina) is nervous or sensory. The fluids in the eye are divided by the lens into the vitreous humor (behind the lens) and the aqueous humor (in front of the lens). The lens itself is flexible and suspended by ligaments which allow it to change shape to focus light on the retina, which is composed of sensory neurons.

      Eye

      illustration

    • Schirmer's test

      Schirmer's test - illustration

      Schirmer's test is used to determine whether the eye produces enough tears to keep it moist. The test is performed by placing filter paper inside the lower lid of the eye. After 5 minutes, the paper is removed and tested for its moisture content.

      Schirmer's test

      illustration

    Tests for Schirmer test

     

     

    Review Date: 2/28/2019

    Reviewed By: Franklin W. Lusby, MD, ophthalmologist, Lusby Vision Institute, La Jolla, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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