Treating Dry Eye Associated with Sjögren’s Syndrome
Sjögren’s syndrome is a disease of the immune system, causing chronic dry eye and dry mouth.
According to the Mayo Clinic: “Sjögren’s syndrome often accompanies other immune system disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. In Sjögren's syndrome, the mucous membranes and moisture-secreting glands of your eyes and mouth are usually affected first — resulting in decreased production of tears and saliva.”
A person can develop Sjögren’s syndrome at any age but it typically affects people over age 40 and females primarily. Treatment of Sjögren’s syndrome tends to focus on symptom relief.
Symptoms of Sjögren’s Syndrome
The two primary symptoms of Sjögren's syndrome:
- Dry eyes: Burning, itching or the feeling of grit in the eyes.
- Dry mouth: Mouth may feel like it's full of cotton, making it hard to both swallow and talk.
Some people with Sjögren's syndrome also experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- Swelling, pain, and stiffness of the joints
- Swollen salivary glands
- Skin rashes or dry skin
- Vaginal dryness
- Persistent dry cough
- Prolonged fatigue
Causes of Sjögren’s Syndrome
The Mayo clinic states the following regarding the cause: “Scientists aren't certain why some people develop Sjögren's syndrome and others don't. Certain genes put people at higher risk of the disorder, but it appears that a triggering mechanism — such as infection with a particular virus or strain of bacteria — is also necessary.”
The disease can affect many parts of the body including:
Conventional Treatments and Drugs Typically Prescribed
The Mayo Clinic outlines the following medications, depending on the symptoms:
- Increase production of saliva: Drugs such as pilocarpine (Salagen) and cevimeline (Evoxac) can increase the amount of saliva, as well as tears, produced by the body. Side effects may include sweating, abdominal pain, flushing, and increased urination.
- Treat complications: If you develop arthritis symptoms, you may benefit from nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or other arthritis medications. Prescription eye drops may be needed if over-the-counter drops aren't helpful. Yeast infections in the mouth should be treated with antifungal medications.
- Treat system wide symptoms: Hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil), a drug designed to treat malaria, is often helpful in treating Sjögren's syndrome. Drugs that suppress the immune system, such as methotrexate, also may be prescribed.
Natural Treatments for Sjögren’s Syndrome
You may not want to merely treat a symptom of Sjögren’s syndrome; natural treatment approaches are more geared towards correcting the imbalance in the body that causes the symptoms in the first place.
Natural health practitioner Dr. Weil’s recommendations are the same for Sjögren’s syndrome as those he suggests for other autoimmune disorders:
- Follow a low-protein, high complex carbohydrate diet. Minimize consumption of animal products and also eliminate milk and milk products (they tend to be allergen foods).
- Avoid polyunsaturated oils such as vegetable oils like soybean, corn, and canola, and hydrogenated fats such as margarine and vegetable shortening.
- Get regular aerobic exercise (it’s good for almost everything!)
- Progressive relaxation and other mind-body techniques such as visualization, hypnosis, and meditation can be effective for moderating autoimmune responses like Sjögren’s syndrome.
- Experience traditional Chinese medicine through diet, herbs, and acupuncture.
- To reduce inflammation, increase intake of omega-3 fatty acids by eating more Alaskan salmon, herring, sardines, walnuts, and lots of leafy greens as well as freshly ground flaxseeds.
- Include the medicinal spices ginger and turmeric in meals for their natural anti-inflammatory effects.
It’s also advisable for patients with autoimmune diseases to avoid health care professionals who make them feel pessimistic about their condition. When dealing with any chronic health condition, it’s important to maintain a positive outlook. Make sure to find a doctor you trust, and you’ll be sure to find symptom relief soon. Do you suffer from Sjogren’s syndrome? What has worked for you?
Dr. Jenna Zigler