Tears play an essential role in maintaining corneal and conjunctival integrity by providing a tightly regulated, optimal extracellular environment critical to its numerous functions, which include anti-microbial defense, wound healing and inflammatory responses such as allergies. Elevated levels of inflammatory cytokines have been reported in tears from various ocular disease states. Characterization of tear cytokines has been limited by the small volume (microliter amounts) attainable. This limitation was addressed with the newly developed Becton Dickinson Cytometric Bead Array (CBA), which combines the principles of the "sandwich" immunoassay with the capability of flow cytometry for simultaneous measurement of the characteristics of multiple particles. This technique allows determination of six human cytokine (IFNgamma, TNFalpha, IL-2, IL-4, IL-5, IL-10) concentrations simultaneously in a single tear sample. Tears were collected from the inferior fornix of non-allergic (n=7) and allergic (n=9) donors. Each tear sample or cytokine standard was incubated with a mixture of capture Ab-bead reagent and detector Ab-phycoerythrin (PE) reagent, and analyzed using flow cytometry. All six cytokines were detectable in both non-allergic and allergic tears. Tears from allergic donors contained significantly less IL-10 (p=0.035), and had significant increases in the ratios of TNFalpha/IFNgamma, IL-5/IFNgamma and IL-5/IL-10 (p=0.0008, 0.0124 and 0.011, respectively). The small volume required (5-10 microl/test) by the Cytometric Bead Array allows measurement of all six cytokines from a single collection of tears. This decreases collection time, minimizing the confounding effect of stimulation on cytokine concentration in tears, as well as allowing calculation of cytokine ratios.