Schirmer's test determines whether the eye produces enough tears to keep it moist. This test is used when a person experiences very dry eyes or excessive watering of the eyes. It poses no risk to the subject. A negative (more than 10 mm of moisture on the filter paper in 5 minutes) test result is normal. Both eyes normally secrete the same amount of tears.
Schirmer's test uses paper strips inserted into the eye for several minutes to measure the production of tears. The exact procedure may vary somewhat. Both eyes are tested at the same time. Most often, this test consists of placing a small strip of filter paper inside the lower eyelid (conjunctival sac). The eyes are closed for 5 minutes. The paper is then removed and the amount of moisture is measured. Sometimes a topical anesthetic is placed into the eye before the filter paper to prevent tearing due to the irritation from the paper. The use of the anesthetic ensures that only basal tear secretion is being measured.
This technique measures basic tear function.
A young person normally moistens 15 mm of each paper strip. Because hypolacrimation occurs with aging, 33% of normal elderly persons may wet only 10 mm in 5 minutes. Persons with Sjögren's syndrome moisten less than 5 mm in 5 minutes.
How to read results of the Schirmer's test:
- 1. Normal which is ≥15 mm wetting of the paper after 5 minutes.
- 2. Mild which is 14-9 mm wetting of the paper after 5 minutes.
- 3. Moderate which is 8-4 mm wetting of the paper after 5 minutes.
- 4. Severe which is <4 mm wetting of the paper after 5 minutes.
Alternatives to Schirmer's test
Even though this test has been available for over a century, several clinical studies have shown that it does not properly identify a large group of patients with dry eyes. Newer and better tests of tear production and function are now emerging.
- One test measures an iron-binding molecule called lactoferrin. The amount of this molecule appears to be closely related to tear production. Patients with low tear production and dry eyes have low levels of this molecule. This test may be especially valuable for patients with dry eyes since it can point to specific treatment strategies for dry eye.
- Another test involves fluorescein eye drops, which contain a dye that is placed in the eye. The dye should drain with the tears through the lacrimal duct into the nose within 2 minutes. If patients do not have enough tears to flush the dye into the nose, this time will be longer. A new test is also available to more accurately measure the flow of dye out of the eye.
Dry eyes can occur from conditions such as:
- Corneal ulcers and infections
- Eye infections (for example conjunctivitis)
- Vitamin A deficiency
- Sjögren's syndrome
- Secondary tearing deficiency (associated with disorders such as - lymphoma, leukemia, GVHD (graft vs. host disease, after a transplant), and rheumatoid arthritis)
The inability of tears to drain into the nose can occur with:
- Some eye infections
- Blockage of the tear duct
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