Skip to main content

Health Encyclopedia

Search the Health Encyclopedia

Schirmer test

Definition

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

Alternative Names

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

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

American Academy of Ophthalmology Cornea/External Disease PPP Panel, Hoskins Center for Quality Eye Care. Dry eye syndrome -2013. Aao.org web site. www.aao.org/preferred-practice-pattern/dry-eye-syndrome-ppp--2013. Accessed February 16, 2017.

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.

Review Date:2/7/2017
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.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997-A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

adam.com

The Agency for Health Care Administration (Agency) and this website do not claim the information on, or referred to by, this site is error free. This site may include links to websites of other government agencies or private groups. Our Agency and this website do not control such sites and are not responsible for their content. Reference to or links to any other group, product, service, or information does not mean our Agency or this website approves of that group, product, service, or information.

Additionally, while health information provided through this website may be a valuable resource for the public, it is not designed to offer medical advice. Talk with your doctor about medical care questions you may have.

Health
Outcome Data

No data available for this condition/procedure.

Health Encyclopedia

More Features

We Appreciate Your Feedback!
1. Did you find this information useful?
         Yes
         No
2. Would you recommend this website to family and friends?
         Yes
         No