What is sjogren's syndrome?

Sjögren's syndrome: Overview

Sjögren's syndrome (say "SHOH-grins") causes your body's defense, or immune, system to attack the glands that make moisture. The condition affects your tear and saliva glands and sometimes other parts of your body. Your eyes and mouth get very dry. Sjögren's also may cause you to be very tired and to have pain in your joints. A small number of people may have problems with their lungs, kidneys, and nerves.

Even though there is no cure for Sjögren's, you can treat the symptoms. You can use artificial tears to keep your eyes moist. Saliva substitutes, water, or prescription medicines can help keep your mouth and throat moist.

Sjögren's syndrome

Sjögren's syndrome (say "SHOH-grins") is a disease in which the immune system attacks the body's glands that make moisture. This disease may cause the tear and saliva glands to become scarred and damaged. It can cause extreme dryness in the eyes and mouth.

Sjögren's syndrome is most common in women who are older than 40.

People with Sjögren's syndrome usually have a dry mouth that makes it hard to swallow and dry eyes that cause eye pain. In severe cases, they may have scarring of the covering of the eye (cornea). Sjögren's syndrome may also cause fatigue, joint pain, and problems with the function of vital organs.

Though there is no cure for Sjögren's syndrome, treating symptoms can offer relief for many people. For example, artificial tears can be used to moisten the eyes, and mouth lubricants and saliva substitutes can help to moisten the mouth and throat.

What are the symptoms of Sjögren's syndrome?

The most common symptoms of Sjögren's syndrome are very dry eyes and mouth that last for at least 3 months and are not caused by medicines. You may have itching and burning in your eyes. Your mouth may feel very dry, as though it is full of cotton.

How is Sjögren's syndrome treated?

Your treatment for Sjögren's syndrome will depend on how the disease affects you. In most cases, treatment will focus on helping you control your symptoms. Treatment may include products to help with dry eyes and mouth, or medicine to relieve pain. Stronger medicines may be recommended if these treatments don't control symptoms.

How is Sjögren's syndrome diagnosed?

Your doctor will examine you and ask about your symptoms and past health. You will be asked about any medicines you take that could cause dry eyes and mouth. The doctor may want to do tests that measure tear flow and saliva. Your blood may also be checked for antibodies.

How can you care for yourself when you have Sjögren's syndrome?

For your eyes

  • Use artificial tears during the day. If one brand doesn't work, try another. Try to use preservative-free drops. They may be easier on your eyes.
  • Avoid medicines that are known to cause dry eyes. These include antihistamines, diuretics, and some antidepressants. Talk with your doctor if you take any of these medicines. Sometimes the benefits of a medicine outweigh the risks.
  • Use a lubricant at night. It is thicker and lasts longer than artificial tears, so you have less burning, dryness, and itching when you wake up in the morning. The ointment may blur your vision for a short time, so use it before going to bed.
  • Wear wraparound sunglasses to protect your eyes from wind and dust.
  • Avoid smoke. It irritates your eyes.
  • Keep makeup away from your eyes. Or you may want to avoid eye makeup.

For your mouth

  • Drink fluids during the day to keep your mouth moist. Try drinking small sips of water and rinsing your mouth a lot.
  • Use mouthwash or spray to keep your mouth wet.
  • Brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste two times a day and after meals, and floss your teeth every day.
  • Visit the dentist two times a year, or more if needed, to prevent and treat tooth decay.
  • Use sugar-free gum or candies such as lemon drops. They increase saliva. (Sugar can increase your risk for cavities.)
  • Avoid over-the-counter medicines that can cause dryness. These include antihistamines, such as Benadryl or Chlor-Trimeton.

For other parts of your body

  • Take anti-inflammatory medicines if you have joint pain and swelling. These include ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve). Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Use moisturizing skin creams or ointments during the day.
  • Use only moisturizing soaps while bathing. After a bath, apply skin creams or ointments.
  • Always wear sunscreen on exposed skin. Make sure to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. Use it every day, even when it is cloudy.
  • Use a vaporizer or humidifier to add moisture to your bedroom. Follow the directions for cleaning the machine.
  • Use saline (saltwater) nasal washes to help keep your nasal passages open and wash out mucus and allergens. You can buy saline nose sprays at a grocery store or drugstore. Follow the instructions on the package. Or you can make your own at home. Add 1 teaspoon of non-iodized salt and 1 teaspoon of baking soda to 2 cups of distilled or boiled and cooled water. Fill a squeeze bottle or neti pot with the nasal wash. Then put the tip into your nostril, and lean over the sink. With your mouth open, gently squirt the liquid. Repeat on the other side.
  • Use lubricants if you have vaginal dryness.
  • Take an over-the-counter antacid or acid reducer, such as Pepcid AC (famotidine) or Tagamet (cimetidine), when needed to reduce heartburn. Be careful when you take over-the-counter antacid medicines. Many of these medicines have aspirin in them. Read the label to make sure that you are not taking more than the recommended dose. Too much aspirin can be harmful.

What is Sjögren's syndrome?

Sjögren's syndrome (say "SHOH-grins") is a disease in which the immune system attacks the glands that make moisture for the body, such as tears and saliva. The damage keeps the glands from working the way they should and makes your eyes and mouth dry.

The disease may also cause other problems, such as fatigue and pain in the joints. In rare cases, it can damage the lungs, kidneys, and nerves.

Anyone can get Sjögren's, but it's most common in women who are in their 40s and 50s.

Relieving dry eyes when you have Sjögren's syndrome

Sjögren's syndrome can cause dry eyes. Taking these steps may help relieve your symptoms.

  • Use artificial teardrops throughout the day.

    Artificial tears come in different kinds. So if one type doesn't help, try another. Preservative-free drops are best. These are less irritating to the eyes.

  • Use lubricating ointments at night.

    Lubricants are thicker and last longer than artificial tears. That means there's less burning, dryness, and itching when you wake up in the morning. Nighttime lubricants may blur your vision for a short time when you first apply them.

  • Avoid medicines that are known to cause dry eyes.

    These include antihistamines, diuretics, and some antidepressants. Talk with your doctor if you take any of these medicines. Sometimes the benefits of a medicine outweigh the risks.

  • Protect your eyes.

    Avoid wind, smoke, drafts, dirt, and sand, if you can. Wear sunglasses outside. Wraparound sunglasses offer the best protection.

  • Avoid makeup on or near your eyes.

Sjogren's syndrome: When to call

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your eyes and mouth are still very dry even with home care.
  • Your joint pain does not get better with over-the-counter medicine.
  • Your tiredness gets worse or makes it hard to do daily activities.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.