Imagine if your body could not produce sufficient moisture. You could not sweat you could not create tears and you could not salivate. Your body would certainly have difficulty functioning without these essential fluids. People with Sjögren’s syndrome are all too familiar with this scenario.
This chronic illness occurs when the body s immune system mistakenly attacks the glands that produce tears and saliva. In the eye inflammation of the glands that produce tears (the lacrimal glands) leads to a decrease in tear production and resulting dryness. Sjögren s syndrome can occur in one of two forms: a person can have primary Sjögren s syndrome where the glands become inflamed but there is no connective tissue disease or they can develop secondary Sjögren s syndrome where the glands swell due to an associated connective tissue disease such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. There is growing scientific support for genetic heredity – the illness is sometimes found in other family members. The average age of onset is late 40s but has been known to affect every age group. Roughly ninety percent of people with this condition are women.
Hallmark symptoms are dry eyes and dry mouth but it affects many organs and may cause fatigue. Sjögren s syndrome can also destroy the tear glands causing damage to the cornea itching burning redness and increased sensitivity to light. Thick secretions often collect in the inside corners of the eyes. In the morning the eyelids may stick together or the eyesight may be blurry due to a film of dried-out tears on the eye. Dry eyes can cause considerable discomfort. If left untreated for a period of time it can lead to corneal ulcerations and scarring. As a result of the dryness the eye is more susceptible to infection and more sensitive to irritants. This condition is serious but not life-threatening if complications are diagnosed and treated early.
While there is no treatment to restore gland secretions there are many treatments available to ease suffering. Many symptoms and problems of Sjögren s syndrome can be treated with over-the-counter medications. Two primary methods for dealing with dry eyes associated with Sjögren’s are to wear protective goggles when outside (to block foreign agents from entering the eye) and to lubricate the eye with artificial tears (eyedrops). There have been many new innovations in terms of eyedrops; some work by wetting the surface of the eye and alleviating dryness while others actually decrease inflammation of the lacrimal glands. Controlled inflammation means increased moisture production and less irritation. In more severe cases your doctor may prescribe corticosteroids to reduce acute swelling. Regardless of what method is used symptoms of this condition can be controlled so the patient should be closely monitored.