Causes Of Sjogren's Syndrome
- Sjogren's syndrome is one of the more common autoimmune disorders. In these diseases, a person's white blood cells attack his or her own tissues and organs, damaging them.
- Why abnormal immune responses develop and destroy a body's own tissues is not clearly understood.
How To Know If You Have Sjogren's Syndrome
The classic symptoms of Sjogren's syndrome are: dry eyes, dry mouth, fatigue and joint pain. Other symptoms may include:
- Contact lens discomfort
- Dry sinuses and frequent sinus infections or nosebleeds
- Sore mouth, tongue or throat
- Difficulty chewing or swallowing
- Dry or peeling lips
- Dry and sore skin
- Muscle pain without accompanying swelling
- Vaginal dryness
Other eye symptoms that can occur with Sjogren's syndrome include blurred vision, a gritty or burning sensation and light sensitivity.
Your eye doctor may perform a number of tests to confirm a diagnosis of Sjogren's syndrome. In one common test (called a Schirmer's test), the tip of a small strip of test paper is inserted under your lower eyelid to measure the amount of tears you produce over a certain period of time (usually five minutes).
Other tests may include use of dyes that color your tears; your doctor will then examine your eyes with a microscope to see how quickly your tears evaporate and whether any dryness-related damage has occurred to your cornea or conjunctiva.
The amount and quality of saliva produced in your mouth may also be measured. Your doctor may order other related tests, including blood tests. (Certain antibodies in the blood are commonly found in people with Sjogren's syndrome.)
How Dry Eye From Sjogren's Syndrome Is Treated
Dry eye resulting from Sjogren's syndrome may require ongoing treatment with artificial tears, ointments or other remedies.
Because many people with Sjogren's syndrome have a problem with their tears evaporating too quickly, oil- or lipid-based eye drops sometimes are especially helpful. These drops help slow down tear evaporation so the eyes can stay moist longer between blinks.
Your eye doctor also will check for a problem called meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD), which is a leading cause of evaporative dry eye. In this condition, the glands in the eyelids that secrete oil into the tear film become inflamed and obstructed. A decrease in the amount or quality of the meibum also may be involved. This oil is essential to keep tears from evaporating too quickly. Successfully treating MGD can help reduce Sjogren's-related dry eye discomfort.
For pain or inflammation, you may also need to take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin or ibuprofen. If you have a severe case of Sjogren's syndrome, your doctor also may recommend immunosuppressant medications.
Side Effects Of Sjogren's Syndrome
Because chronic dry eye is one of the major symptoms of Sjogren's syndrome, you must make sure your eyes are lubricated to avoid damage that can lead to scarring and infection of the eye.
Sjogren's syndrome also can cause dryness of the mouth that can lead to tooth decay or even loss of teeth. Use of mouth lubricants (artificial saliva) may be needed to keep the mouth adequately moist and to assist in swallowing.
Also, people with Sjogren's syndrome are more likely to develop lymphoma (cancer of the lymphatic system, which contains white blood cells that play a major role in fighting disease). Lymph nodes may become enlarged or swollen.
Sjogren's syndrome also can lead to vasculitis (inflammation of blood vessels) that can cause problems throughout the body.
Pregnant women diagnosed with Sjogren's syndrome should notify their doctors. Certain proteins produced by the immune system that are capable of attacking other potentially beneficial proteins in the body can be passed along to infants.
How To Prevent Dry Eye And Other Sjogren's Syndrome Symptoms
There are no known ways to prevent Sjogren's syndrome, but these steps may help ease symptoms:
- Drink more fluids, especially water.
- Chew sugarless gum or use hard candies to moisten your mouth.
- Regularly use artificial tears and ointments to keep your eyes moistened.
- Use saline spray for your nose.
- Install a humidifier to help reduce dry eyes, nose, mouth and skin.
- Tell your eye doctor about any drugs you are taking, because some, such as antihistamines for allergies, can cause dryness.
- Use vaginal lubricants if needed.
- Don't smoke, and avoid alcohol.