How Are Dry Eyes Diagnosed?

Dry eye syndrome is a chronic condition that affects almost 50 percent of all adults at some time in their life. The failure of the eyes to produce adequate tears to ensure constant lubrication is its main characteristic. The quantity or quality of tears fails to maintain the required eye moisture. 


Some treatments can help manage the symptoms of dry eye. The root cause of the condition will determine the best treatment option. The common symptoms of dry eye disease include irritated, dry, or red eyes, burning, itchiness, excessive tearing, and sore or sensitive eyes. Other symptoms are the sensation of foreign bodies in the eyes, eyelid inflammation, and blurriness. 


If you experience any symptoms, you should contact an eye doctor for diagnosis and treatment. The following diagnostic tests will help evaluate your eye condition.


Comprehensive Eye Examination


A comprehensive eye exam can help determine if a person has a dry eye disease. The doctor will examine the patient's eye and overall health during the exam. A history of the patient's health will help in diagnosing dry eye. The doctor will also assess the symptoms and their severity. It will determine the appropriate tests needed for diagnosis.


Testing Quality of Tears 

Some tests help determine the quality of the tears. Eye drops with special dyes test the condition of the eye surface. The doctor will look for stain patterns on the cornea and measure how long it takes for the tears to evaporate. The doctor can also use a sterilized blotting paper to conduct a tear breakup time (TBUT) test. 


Measuring Tear Volume 

The doctor can conduct tests to measure tear production. A Schirmer test involves blotting paper strips placed under the lower lids. After five minutes, the doctor will measure the tears soaked up by the strip. 


A phenol red thread test can also help measure tear volume. In this test, doctors use a thread with a pH-sensitive dye that changes color when wet with tears. After 15 seconds over the lower lid, the thread is tested for tear volume. 


Composition of the Tears


Doctors conduct a tear osmolarity test to measure water composition and particles in tears. A TearLab® test can measure the saltiness or osmolarity of the tears. People with dry eye syndrome have a low water content in their tears. The tears do not provide adequate moisture required for healthy eyes. 




Most people have dry eye syndrome due to meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD). Assessing the meibomian glands' condition can help diagnose chronic dry eye. LipiScan is a diagnostic imaging tool that produces high-resolution images of the glands. It allows the doctor to determine if the glands are healthy, dilated, blocked, or atrophied. 


Looking for Dry Eye Markers

Eye doctors take tear samples to look for dry eye disease markers such as decreased lactoferrin or elevated matrix metalloproteinase-9. InflammaDry® is a diagnostic tool that can help identify elevated MMP-9 levels in tears. High levels can indicate the patient has eyelid inflammation, which is often a symptom of dry eye. 

Treatment for dry eye will depend on the underlying cause of the condition. Treatment options include artificial tears, punctal plugs, and medications. 

For more on the diagnosis of dry eyes, contact Norwood Family Eye Care at our Bartlett, Tennessee office. Call 901-617-8095 today to schedule an appointment.

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