A Closer Look: Ocular Surface Disease and Sjögren’s Syndrome


Learn more about Sjögren’s [pronounced “SHOW-grins”] syndrome and potential methods of treatment.


What Is Sjögren’s Syndrome?

Sjögren’s syndrome is a chronic autoimmune disease in which the body’s white blood cells attack the glands that produce tears and saliva. This results in dryness of the eyes and mouth.

Sjögren’s syndrome can range from mild to severe. Although there is no cure, treatment can help to manage the symptoms.

Sjögren’s syndrome is thought to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. However, it’s not fully clear what the cause is. There is a belief that this condition needs a triggering mechanism, for example, certain infections caused by a specific virus or bacteria. 

It is more common in women than men and usually develops after the age of 40. People with certain other autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, are at increased risk of developing Sjögren’s syndrome.


Symptoms of Sjögrens Syndrome

What Are the Symptoms of Sjögrens Syndrome?

There is no one test to diagnose Sjögren’s syndrome. Instead, it is diagnosed based on symptoms, a physical examination, and test results. The two most common symptoms are dry eye and dry mouth.

In people with Sjögren’s syndrome, the inflammation of the exocrine glands leads to a decrease in the production of tears and saliva, causing dry eye and other problems. Aqueous-deficient dry eye is a type of dry eye caused by a decrease in the production of tears.

People with aqueous-deficient dry eye may experience symptoms such as eye burning, itching, redness, and blurred vision. Aqueous-deficient dry eye is a common complication of Sjögren’s syndrome.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Blepharitis
  • Dry skin or skin rashes
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Dry cough
  • Fatigue
  • Joint pain
  • Joint swelling
  • Swollen salivary glands
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Diagnosis of Sjögren’s Syndrome

Your eye doctor will conduct tests to determine if your eyes are producing a normal amount of tears. They may also examine how quickly your tears dry up. Their findings could be an indication of Sjögren’s syndrome.

Your eye doctor may refer you to a rheumatologist for additional testing to confirm the diagnosis.


How Do You Treat Sjögren’s Syndrome?

Sjögren’s syndrome is more than just a simple case of dry eye; it can have long-term consequences if not treated correctly. 

Long-term consequences can affect your:

  • Eyes 
  • Mouth
  • Lungs 
  • Kidneys
  • Liver 
  • Lymph nodes

Ultimately, left untreated, it could result in complications such as blindness, significant dental destruction, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

There is no cure for Sjögren’s syndrome, but treatments can help alleviate its symptoms. The primary goals of treatment are to relieve dryness and reduce pain. Treatment options include:

  • Artificial tears and ointments: Over-the-counter artificial tears and ointments can help lubricate the eyes and mouth. Prescription versions may be more effective.
  • Punctal Plugs: Tiny, biocompatible devices inserted into the tear ducts to block the drainage of tears from the eye. By doing so, they help to keep the eye lubricated and moist, reducing the symptoms of dry eye.
  • Saliva substitutes: These products can help moisten the mouth. They include over-the-counter gels, sprays, lozenges, and prescription oral pilocarpine (Salagen) tablets.
  • Medications: There are several types of Sjögren’s syndrome medications. Some of these include antihistamines, corticosteroids, immunosuppressants, and biological agents. Biologic agents such as rituximab (Rituxan) are a newer type of treatment that targets specific proteins in the immune system.
  • Surgery: In some cases, surgery may be necessary to treat complications of Sjögren’s syndrome, such as damage to the salivary glands or persistent dryness despite other treatments.
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Choose the Experts in Eye Care Services

Ongoing care and management of dry eye caused by Sjögren’s syndrome is essential to your eye health. The experts at Lehigh Eye Specialists will provide you with the best treatment options to manage your ocular symptoms of Sjögren’s syndrome. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.

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