Facts About Sjögren’s Syndrome

 Photo by: Bigstockphoto

Photo by: Bigstockphoto

Sjögren’s Syndrome is an autoimmune disorder. This means a hyperactive immune system is mistakenly attacking its own tissues and organs. In this case, the immune system is attacking the eyes and mouth.

Hence, Sjögren’s Syndrome is characterized by dry eyes and dry mouth. This condition affects the mucous membranes and moisture-secreting glands in the eyes and mouth. As the condition progresses, there is a pronounced decrease in tears and saliva production. Eventually, the damage will spread to other parts of the body. These include the joints, kidneys, liver and lungs. It could also affect the skin, nerves and the thyroid glands.

Sjögren’s Syndrome can affect people of all ages. But the condition is prevalent among those aged 40 or older. This condition is also common among women. Also, those afflicted with rheumatic disease – like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis – could also develop Sjögren’s Syndrome later in life.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for Sjögren’s Syndrome. Most of the treatments for this condition are focused on alleviating the symptoms.

Symptoms of Sjögren’s Syndrome

The most common symptoms of Sjögren’s Syndrome includes dry, burning or itchy eyes. It’s as if a grain of sand is stuck within the eyes. The mouth feels as if it’s full of cotton. Other symptoms that point to Sjögren’s Syndrome includes difficulty in speaking or swallowing. Joint pains, swollen salivary glands and skin rashes are also symptoms of this condition. Chronic fatigue, persistent dry cough, and vaginal dryness could be symptoms of Sjögren’s Syndrome as well.

Health experts have not determined the cause of Sjögren’s Syndrome. But most scientists believe some people could be genetically predisposed to suffer from this condition. Sjögren’s Syndrome could also be triggered by another health anomaly – usually an infection from a certain virus or bacteria.

Living With Sjögren’s Syndrome

Treating Sjögren’s Syndrome will depend on your symptoms. Most doctors will suggest a different medication according to the severity of the symptoms.

For those suffering from decreased saliva production, doctors could prescribe pilocarpine (Salagen) and cevimeline (Evoxac). These drugs will help increase saliva production and even boost moisture in the eyes. Side effects of these drugs include flushing, increased urination, and abdominal pains.

For those who developed arthritis symptoms, doctors will prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Regular arthritis medications also work to ease these symptoms. Please note that over the counter eye drops are not enough to soothe dry eyes.  Instead, your doctor will give you prescription eye drops to boost moisture to the eyes.

For extremely dry eyes, surgery is also an option. A minor surgical procedure will seal the tear ducts that drain the tears from the eyes. The seals are made from collagen or silicon. They basically plug the ducts, creating a temporary closure.

Eventually, the collagen plugs will dissolve on their own. Silicone plugs will stay in place for some time, but it could fall out or be removed. Your doctor could also recommend laser treatment to permanently seal the tear ducts.

A drug meant to treat malaria called Plaquenil is often prescribed to those with Sjögren’s Syndrome too. This drug will calm an overactive immune system. Other drugs that work the same way could be prescribed as well.