Eye-Related Chronic Conditions
What is Sjögren’s syndrome?
Sjögren’s syndrome (pronounced Show-grin’s syndrome) is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks glands that produce moisture. As it relates to the eyes, Sjögren’s syndrome targets tear glands, causing those who have it to suffer from extremely dry eyes. The people most commonly affected are women in their 40s to 60s.
The cause of Sjögren’s syndrome is not known. In some cases, it may be inherited and has been known to run in families, while other cases have shown it to stem from pre-existing, related diseases.
The classic symptom of Sjögren’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 Sjögren’s syndrome after observing dryness of the eyes and mouth, and carrying out tests to detect the presence of the condition. One such test is called Schirmer’s test, which measures the eye’s ability to wet a slip of paper. Other examinations determine the presence of Sjögren’s syndrome by testing the production of saliva and antibodies, as well as dryness on the surface of the eye.
Common symptoms of Sjögren’s syndrome that are normally found in eyes include:
- Eye dryness
- Eye irritation
- Low tear production
- Feeling of foreign objects in the eye
As an autoimmune disease with no known cure, usually the treatment aims of Sjögren’s syndrome are 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, punctal plugs block the function of the puncta, the opening of the tear duct which allows tear drainage
- Prescription medications to improve or increase tears
These symptoms can also be a sign of other eye conditions. If you have any of the symptoms, please check with your eye care practitioner.