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Autoimmune Dry Eyes: What is Sjogren’s Syndrome?

By September 23, 2022 No Comments
autoimmune dry eyes - woman with scarf covering her face except for her green eyes

Sjogren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disorder where the body’s white blood cells mistakenly attack moisture-producing glands. It usually targets the mucus membranes and glands of the eyes and mouth. As a result, people with Sjogren’s experience inflammation and a significant reduction in the quantity and quality of moisture produced in those areas.

An Overview of Sjogren’s Syndrome

Common Symptoms

Dry eyes and mouth are the hallmark symptoms of Sjogren’s due to a reduced amount of tears and saliva.

  • Dry eyes often burn, itch, or feel gritty, like there’s sand in them.
  • Dry mouth is commonly compared to a cotton-like sensation, making it hard to speak and swallow.

Although dryness in the eyes and mouth are the most commonly experienced symptoms, some also suffer from one or more of the following:

  • Skin rashes or dry skin
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Persistent dry cough
  • Memory lapses
  • Joint pain, stiffness, and swelling
  • Swollen salivary glands
  • Fatigue
woman coughing into her sleeve - autoimmune disease dry cough

Sjogren’s syndrome symptoms can cause further issues, particularly in regards to the eyes and mouth:

  • Vision problems: Dry eyes can cause blurred vision, light sensitivity, and corneal damage.
  • Cavities: Any lowered amount of saliva can increase the risk of cavities since it helps protect the teeth from bacteria.
  • Yeast infections: Reduced saliva can also cause oral thrush, a mouth yeast infection.

Causes & Risk Factors

The cause of Sjogren’s syndrome remains uncertain, as no two cases are alike. However, certain factors, such as specific genes, viruses, and illnesses, influence its onsets. Sjogren’s typically occurs when at least one of the following risk factors is met:

  • Age: Sjogren’s syndrome commonly arises in the late 40s, although one could have it at any age.
  • Sex: The overwhelming majority of people with Sjogren’s are women.
  • Rheumatic disease: Those with rheumatoid arthritis or lupus are at a greater risk of developing Sjogren’s.

Treating Autoimmune Dry Eyes

Like Sjogren’s syndrome, dry eye symptoms vary from one person to another. For instance, the decreased tear production may cause your eyes to itch and burn, leading to excessive blinking, or they could appear red and watery, causing blurred vision. Therefore, treating dry eyes and inflammation from this autoimmune disorder largely depends on the extent and severity of symptoms.

Many patients find relief from applying over-the-counter artificial tears during the day and a gel at night. Others suffering from eyelid inflammation (blepharitis) can benefit from heat compresses, eyelid cleansers, and gentle eyelid massages to relieve their blocked oil glands. Still others with more significant symptoms often receive prescription-strength eye drops.

Wraparound sunglasses, goggles, and shields can help reduce tear evaporation by protecting the eyes from air, wind, and particles. In cases where no other treatment method has worked, patients can receive punctal plugs. Optometrists insert tiny plugs into the tear ducts to block them in this simple procedure. As a result, tears stay on the eyes’ surface longer, retaining more moisture.

Receive Personalized Dry Eye Treatment Today

Although no cause or cure is available for Sjogren’s syndrome, treating your symptoms is the best line of defense. The optometrists at the Dry Eye Institute of St. Louis possess the knowledge and skills to create a personalized treatment regime that addresses your symptoms. We use the latest testing and equipment and thoroughly explain your condition and treatment method.

We understand that dry eye symptoms have multiple factors influencing their onset, so we identify the root cause and treat it accordingly. Drs. Bourn and Weis are here to provide relief, whether or not you’re aware of having Sjogren’s syndrome. Don’t let autoimmune dry eyes prevent you from living life to the fullest — schedule an appointment with our specialists today!

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