Updated: Jul 06, 2021
Author: Dan D DeAngelis, MD, FRCSC; Chief Editor: Edsel B Ing, MD, PhD, MBA, MEd, MPH, MA, FRCSC 



Alacrima refers to a wide spectrum of lacrimal secretory disorders that are mostly congenital in origin. Symptoms of these disorders can range from a complete absence of tears to hyposecretion of tears; symptoms of rarer disorders include a selective absence of tearing in response to emotional stimulation but a normal secretory response to mechanical stimulation.


Alacrima is usually inherited in an autosomal recessive fashion, but dominant pedigrees have been described. Mutations in the AAAS gene on chromosome band 12q13 have been described in several pedigrees with Allgrove (or triple-A) syndrome. The AAAS gene encodes a 547-amino acid protein named ALADIN (for alacrima-achalasia-adrenal insufficiency-neurologic disorder), which belongs to the family of regulatory proteins that play an important role in regulating intracellular protein transport.[1]

Etiologies can be separated into pathological mechanisms or syndromic associations. See Causes.



United States

Alacrima is uncommon.


Alacrima is uncommon.


Corneal sequelae are the most feared complication of alacrima.


Onset of alacrima occurs in infancy.




Patients with alacrima can have a wide spectrum of clinical presentations, from entirely asymptomatic and comfortable to presenting with debilitating symptoms of foreign body sensation, photophobia, ocular pain, and decreased visual acuity.

Parents may notice that there is a history of crying without tears since birth.

Information obtained from the history may be significant when alacrima is syndromic and associated with other findings.


Physical findings of alacrima may be either ocular or systemic, as follows:

  • Eyelids - Chronic blepharoconjunctivitis

  • Tear film - Decreased/absent tear production

  • Conjunctiva - Hyperemia, thick mucoid discharge, keratinization

  • Cornea - Hypesthesia, interstitial keratitis, pannus, subepithelial opacities, infectious ulcers, corneal perforations

  • Extraocular muscles - Palsies of cranial nerves III, IV, and VI

  • Pupils - Anisocoria, tonic pupils

  • Optic nerve - Optic atrophy

  • Orbit - Absence of the orbital and/or palpebral lobe of the lacrimal gland

  • Systemic findings include the following:

    • Gastrointestinal - Xerostomia, achalasia, decreased salivation

    • Neurologic - Peripheral and autonomic neuropathy

    • Musculoskeletal - Osteoporosis, short stature

    • Metabolic - Adrenocortical insufficiency


Etiologies can be separated into pathological mechanisms or syndromic associations.

  • Mechanism

    • Nuclear aplasia

    • Failure of central nervous system/peripheral nervous system (CNS/PNS) innervation

    • Lacrimal gland aplasia/hypoplasia

  • Syndromic

    • Isolated congenital alacrima

    • Riley-Day syndrome - Familial dysautonomia

    • Anhidrotic ectodermal dysplasia - Decreased sweating and salivation, heat intolerance, hypotrichosis

    • Sj√∂gren syndrome - Xerostomia, salivary gland enlargement, collagen-vascular disease association

    • Allgrove (or triple-A) syndrome - Achalasia, alacrima, adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) insensitivity, late neurologic manifestations





Imaging Studies

CT scan of the orbits - Aplastic/hypoplastic lacrimal glands


Neostigmine testing

Neostigmine testing can be performed as a challenge to evaluate for the presence of secondary tear production.

Dosages vary but can be calculated with this formula: [Weight (kg)/70] X 1.5 mg = dose

The patient may be reexamined 30-45 minutes later for evidence of tear production. Typically, no secondary tear production is seen in patients with alacrima.

Schirmer testing

This secretory test is used in the evaluation of patients with alacrima. Testing can be performed to test for basal secretors or for combined basal and reflex secretors. Schirmer test strips are specially prepared Whatman #41 paper, each measuring 35 mm in length and 5 mm in width. A notch is located 5 mm from the end to facilitate bending and placement in the conjunctival fornix. After placement in the fornix, tears advance via capillarity and reflect the tear production of the eye.

For basal secretor testing, a drop of topical anesthetic is placed in the conjunctival fornix. The inferior fornix should be dried with a cotton-tipped applicator. The Schirmer test strip is bent at the 5 mm notch and placed in the central lid of each eye. The strips are removed at 5 minutes, and a pen mark is placed at the junction of the wet test strip and the dry test strip. A measurement is made between the mark and the 5 mm notch. A normal value is 10 mm of wetting at 5 minutes, with lower values indicating a dry eye condition. Of asymptomatic patients, 15% have values of less than 3 mm.

For basal and reflex secretor testing, no topical anesthetic is used. The inferior fornix should be dried with a cotton-tipped applicator. The test is carried out as outlined above, and the normal median wetting approximates 15 mm, with a range of 10-30 mm. A value of less than 5 mm is abnormally low.

Conjunctival and lacrimal gland biopsy

Conjunctival and lacrimal gland biopsy specimens may be of value to identify underlying histopathologic findings.

Histologic Findings

Conjunctiva biopsy specimens reveal hydropic epithelial degeneration. Lacrimal gland biopsy specimens may reveal neuronal degeneration and depletion of dense core vesicles.



Medical Care

Artificial tears are used as the primary treatment modality as often as necessary to relieve ocular discomfort.

Severe cases necessitate more viscous preparations, such as gels and ointments.

Pay particular attention to preservatives and concomitant hypersensitivity.

Petrolatum gels may be used at night.

Progressive symptoms may require sustained-release ocular inserts.

Moisture chambers at night may be attempted, but compliance in children is often poor.

Blepharoconjunctivitis may be treated with hot compresses and antibiotic drops or ointments.

Some cases of keratoconjunctivitis sicca, especially with recurrent corneal erosion or ulceration, may be ameliorated with bandage contact lenses, aggressive topical lubrication, and antibiotics (as needed).

Cases of systemic autoimmune dysfunction have been treated with neostigmine (Prostigmin).

Corneal epithelial breakdown is more likely if the cornea is anesthetic.

Surgical Care

Attempt surgical interventions when conservative topical therapy does not relieve symptoms.

Temporary occlusion

Temporary punctal obliteration is difficult to quantitate and better achieved by punctal plugs.

If surgical obliteration is contemplated, it probably should be permanent.

Permanent occlusion

Permanent punctal occlusion should be attempted if all conservative means fail.

Inferior punctal occlusion and/or superior punctal occlusion may be attempted depending on the severity of the clinical findings.

Thermal, electrical, and laser modalities have been advocated, but the best permanent results occur when the punctum and the vertical limb of the canaliculus are obliterated.


Temporary or permanent tarsorrhaphy is indicated with prolonged symptoms or evidence of ocular compromise characterized by corneal breakdown.


Consider consultation with a neurologist and a pediatrician.



Medication Summary

The goals of pharmacotherapy are to reduce morbidity and to prevent complications.

Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors

Class Summary

Inhibit the cholinesterase-induced breakdown of acetylcholine, thus allowing enhanced transmission across the neuromuscular junction.

Neostigmine (Prostigmin)

Inhibits destruction of acetylcholine by acetylcholinesterase, which facilitates transmission of impulses across neural junctions.



Further Outpatient Care

Instruct patients to return if they experience either of the following:

  • They remain symptomatic despite their current treatment regimen.

  • They begin to develop new symptoms.


Disease-related complications include the following:

  • Keratoconjunctivitis sicca

  • Corneal decompensation

  • Recurrent corneal erosion

  • Bacterial keratitis

Treatment-related complications that may occur with punctal plugs include the following:

  • Local irritation

  • Epiphora

  • Plug extrusion

  • Canaliculitis

  • Recurrent dacryocystitis


Long-term follow-up care is essential because of the possible development of keratoconjunctivitis sicca and corneal decompensation.

When associated with systemic disease, the condition can be fatal due to secondary autonomic and endocrine dysfunction.