Sjogren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disorder that destroys the glands that produce tears and saliva, causing excessive dry eyes and dry mouth. Autoimmune means that the body attacks itself, without any real known cause or reason.
As with many diseases, the exact cause of Sjogren’s is very hard to pinpoint. Since it’s an autoimmune disorder, that means that the immune system is attacking healthy tissues by mistake, and the rest of the body doesn’t know how to respond or protect itself.
The disease is very rare in children and usually occurs in women aged 40-50 years.
- Primary Sjögren syndrome is defined as dry eyes and dry mouth without another autoimmune disorder.
- Secondary Sjögren syndrome occurs along with another autoimmune disorder, such as rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, systemic lupus erythematosus or polymyositis.
The most common symptoms are dry eyes and dry mouth because Sjogren’s attacks those glands first. However, as the disease progresses, other symptoms could include:
- itchy eyes
- feeling like there’s something in your eye
- trouble swallowing
- unable to taste
- thick saliva
- mouth sores
- speech problems
- colour changes in the skin of the hands or feet
- swollen lymph nodes or glands, which can be felt at various parts of the body like in the neck, under the jaws, and in the arm pits.
- joint pain and swelling
- persistent cough
- skin rashes
- dryness in the genital areas.
A general physical exam in your doctor’s office can determine whether dry eyes and dry mouth are severe enough to warrant further testing. If so, there are a variety of tests your doctor can order including:
- Testing tear production.
- ANA test to look at the immune system.
- Examining the tissue of the saliva glands.
- Rheumatoid factor for joint disease.
- Exam to look at the structures of the eye to detect dryness and tear production.
The main goal for Sjogren’s patients is to relieve symptoms.
- The symptom of dry eyes can be treated with eye drops (artificial tears), eye lubricants, or even placing a plug in the ducts so the tears stay on the surface of the eye to keep them lubricated.
- For those with secondary Sjogren's syndrome, joint symptoms can be treated with disease modifying medications often used for arthritis such as Humira and Remicaide.
At home, there are steps you can take to help ease symptoms of Sjogren’s. These include:
- Drink more water, sipping it regularly throughout the day.
- Chew sugarless gum to increase saliva.
- Stay away from medications that cause dry mouth such as allergy medications.
- Avoid alcohol or anything that would cause dehydration.