Sjögren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disease that attacks and destroys the glands that keep your eyes, mouth, and other areas of your body lubricated and moist. According to the Sjögren’s Syndrome Foundation, almost four million Americans suffer from this disease, but many are unaware they may have it. While anyone of any age could develop this syndrome, it is most common among Caucasian women between the ages of 40 to 60.

What Causes Sjögren’s Syndrome?

Sjögren’s is a common autoimmune disorder. Such disorders occur when the body’s white blood cells that would typically help protect the body instead turn on the body by attacking and damaging its organs and tissues. It is not clearly understood what triggers the immune system to attack its own body. However, some of these abnormalities could be inherited or an after-effect of having a previous bacterial or viral infection. Sjögren’s can occur on its own or along with other autoimmune diseases, including lupus, celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis, or scleroderma.

Eye-Related Symptoms of Sjögren’s Syndrome

Some of the most common symptoms of Sjögren’s syndrome are eye-related. For example, dry eyes are one of the most common problems associated with the syndrome. Because of this, Sjögren’s is not always immediately diagnosed because so many people have dry eyes. However, 1 in 10 dry eye suffers may also have the syndrome. Other eye-related symptoms may include:

  • Gritty or burning sensation
  • Blurred vision
  • Contact lens discomfort
  • Light sensitivity
  • Corneal ulcerations
  • Blepharitis
  • Eye infections

Treating the Symptoms of Sjögren’s

Eye doctors can perform tests to determine if you have Sjögren’s. Other tests can be used to determine if any damage has been done to your eyes. Sjögren’s-caused chronic dry eye can be treated with lubricating eye drops, artificial tears, or ointments to restore moisture to your eyes that is lost from tear evaporation.

Depending on the severity of Sjögren’s, your eye doctor may check your eyes for meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD) that can decrease the amount of oils in tears. Treating MGD can help prevent tears from quickly evaporating.

In severe cases of Sjögren’s syndrome, your doctor may recommend immunosuppressant medications. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may be recommended for pain or inflammation.

It is possible to have Sjögren’s and not be aware of it. Early detection and treatment can treat its symptoms and prevent further damage. A comprehensive eye exam is crucial for your eye health and can help detect changes in your eyes that could indicate you have this condition. If you have dry eyes and have not had a recent eye exam, give Valley Eyecare Center a call at (602) 955-2700 to schedule your annual eye exam.