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Sjögren’s Syndrome

Sjögren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disease that attacks liquid producing glands in the body. The characteristic symptom of Sjögren’s is dry eyes and skin. It is responsible for 10% of all cases of dry eye syndrome. 9 out of 10 of those diagnosed are women.

In an autoimmune disease, your body attempts to destroy part of itself, mistaking the part for a foreign object. In Sjögren’s syndrome, white blood cells attack lacrimal glands, the part of the body responsible for creating tears.

Sjögren’s comes in two forms: primary and secondary. Primary is when the disease occurs by itself. Secondary is when there is another disease that is the cause and Sjögren’s is a symptom of a deeper problem. Both patients can experience equal severity when it comes to symptoms.

Dry eyes caused by Sjögren’s can lead to further ocular complications. Blurred vision, lower visual acuity, sensitivity to light, and a feeling of a foreign object in your eye are common side effects. Blepharitis, the inflammation of the eyelids, can also occur. Chronic dry eyes also weaken your cornea. This can lead to infection or scarring; in turn, you may need a corneal transplant.

Sjögren’s also causes a lack of production in other secretions, including saliva, mucous, and sweat. As a result, dry mouth is the next most common symptom after dry eyes. Because of a lack of saliva production, dry mouth, sore throat, and trouble eating. Due to  lack in mucous production, bronchitis, sinus infections and nosebleeds are common. Muscle soreness and flakey skin come along with a lack of sweat. Because of the amount of damage Sjögren’s can do to the body, more serious conditions can develop. Studies show an increase in major organ deterioration, specifically in the brain and kidneys. Lymphoma is the most common cancer that can occur.

Sjögren’s cannot be cured, but some medications are available to decrease symptoms. Artificial tears are prescribed to keep eyes lubricated. Sjögren’s affects a gland that produces oily lipids in the eye. These oils keep tears from evaporating too quickly. Eye drops can also be prescribed that contain chemicals that can replace these oils. Other times the glands might produce the oils incorrectly and the glands become clogged. This causes them to become inflamed and painful. Steroids can be prescribed to reduce inflammation.

A number of lifestyle changes should be made when diagnosed with Sjögren’s. Doctors recommend drinking more water to keep your mouth and throat hydrated and to provide liquid that is lost because of the disease. Alcohol should be avoided. Saline spray should be used to keep nasal passages hydrated. Make sure it does not contain antihistamines, which can cause further dryness. A humidifier for use in the home keeps skin and eyes moistened.