Sjogren’s Syndrome: What is it and How Do You Know if You have it?
Most people experience dry eyes occasionally, especially during the winter months when more time is spent inside, but when dry eyes are a common occurrence, it could mean a more serious condition is the underlying problem.
What Causes Sjogren’s Syndrome?
Sjorgren’s, pronounced SHOW-grins, is an autoimmune disorder, which means that your body’s immune system is confused, and instead of fighting the virus or bacteria that is attacking your body, the immune system attacks the body’s cells and tissues.
Most autoimmune disorders are triggered by a virus or bacteria, which can happen to anyone at anytime. At present there has been no scientific connection to a definable cause of Sjorgren’s syndrome, however, it does seem that certain genetic profiles put some people at a higher risk. Sjorgen’s is more common in people over 40, most likely because their immune system is impaired. It is more prevalent in women and people with a rheumatic disease — such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, which also impair the strength of the immune system.
The Symptoms of Sjogren’s Syndrome
Sjogren’s syndrome can easily go undetected. The two most common symptoms are dry eyes and a dry mouth. These are factors that can often be ignored or attributed to another cause such as allergies, external factors, or a temporary illness, and this can mean that those with the condition do not seek treatment until it is quite advanced.
Symptoms may also include:
- A persistent dry cough
- Prolonged fatigue
- Joint pain
- Swelling and stiffness
- Swollen salivary glands
- Skin rashes or dry skin
In addition to these symptoms, Sjogren’s can damage other parts of your body, and if you notice discomfort or pain connected to joints, thyroid, kidneys, liver, lungs, skin or nerves in conjunction with the above symptoms, it is important to get checked for this disease.
Since Sjorgren’s is usually first noticed in the eyes and the mouth, a routine Kelowna eye exam may be the best way to detect this disease. Dry eyes often lead to additional issues such as light sensitivity, blurred vision, and corneal damage, and the best way to determine if there is an issue is to discuss concerns with your eye doctor.
During a Kelowna eye exam, the dryness of eyes can be tested accurately with a Schirmer tear test. This test is simple and not invasive or painful. A small piece of filter paper is used to measure tear production. The filter paper is simply placed under your lower eyelid to monitor liquid production.
Your Kelowna optometrist may also examine the surface of the eyes to check for damage to the cornea. Eye drops are placed in the eye, and the eye is examined with a magnifying device called a slit lamp.
Treatment for Sjogren’s Syndrome
When Sjogren’s syndrome affects the eyes, the treatment depends on the severity. Some people with light symptoms manage quite well with over-the-counter eye drops and drinking more water to alleviate the discomfort of dry eyes.
However, if it is more severe, prescription medications, or even surgical procedures may be suggested. To decrease eye inflammation caused by lack of tear production, prescription eye drops may be recommended.
The surgery that can help is a minor procedure that seals the tear ducts to stop tears from draining, which helps keep the eye lubricated. Tiny plugs made of collagen or silicone can also be inserted in the tear ducts to prevent drainage.
While these methods treat the symptoms and alleviate discomfort and damage to the cornea, they don’t address the underlying cause. Taking care of the immune system is an essential part of dealing with Sjogren’s syndrome effectively, and it is highly recommended that the patient follow a healthy lifestyle to help repair the immune system.
It’s simply amazing what can be detected in an eye exam. They say the eyes are the window of the soul, but, thanks to scientific discoveries and new technology in eye examinations, we now know that symptoms of disease and illness can often be detected in the eyes first.
So, if you are not feeling as good as you think you should, schedule a Kelowna eye exam. It’s always better to catch an illness at the earliest stages.