Sjogren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks glands that produce moisture. As it relates to the eyes, Sjogren’s syndrome targets tear glands, causing those who have it to suffer from extremely dry eyes.
It is a condition that affects four million people in the U.S., including men and women of all ages. The most common patients are women in their ’40s and ’50s.
What Causes Sjogren’s Syndrome?
The cause of Sjogren’s syndrome is not known. In some cases, it may be inherited, as it has been observed to run in families. Other cases have shown it to stem from preexisting, related diseases.
Symptoms of Sjogren’s Syndrome
The classic symptom of Sjorgren’s syndrome is extreme dryness of the eyes, mouth, throat, and other areas of the body sustained over prolonged periods of time.
An eye care professional may diagnose Sjorgren’s syndrome after observing dryness of the tear and saliva glands, and running tests to detect the presence of the condition. One such test is Schirmer’s test, which measures the eye’s ability to wet a slip of paper. Other examinations to determine the presence of Sjogren’s syndrome test salivary gland activity and production of antibodies, as well as dryness on the surface of the eye.
Symptoms of Sjorgren’s syndrome that commonly manifest in eyes include:
- Eye dryness
- Eye irritation
- Low tear production
- Feeling of foreign objects in the eye
Treatments for Sjogren’s Syndrome
As an autoimmune disease with no known cure, Sjogren’s syndrome treatments are generally aimed at helping to relieve symptoms of dryness and discomfort. For the eyes, these treatments include:
- Artificial tears: topical application that soothes and comforts dry eyes
- Punctal plugs: a more advanced treatment for severe cases, punctual plugs block the function of the puncta, the opening of the tear duct which allows tear drainage.