The Sjogren's Syndrome - Signs & Treatment
The Sjogren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disorder affecting one’s mucous membranes and moisture-secreting glands in eyes and mouth. The chronic disease affects over 4 million Americans, being more prevalent in people aged 40 and more and affecting women more often than men.
Defined by the dryness of eyes and mouth, this ailment appears when white blood cells, responsible for the organism’s immunity, mistakenly perceive cells in other tissues as enemies and attack them, altering their functioning. As a result, glands responsible for producing tears and saliva are not able to fulfill their tasks properly hence the increased dryness of membranes covering the eyes and lining the mouth.
What causes the Sjogren’s syndrome?
As already said, this ailment is an autoimmune one so it is triggered by a faulty immune system. Although the exact cause of the abnormal immune functioning is not known, available data and researches suggest the syndrome’s occurrence is favored by a combination of genetic, hormonal and environmental factors.
One’s age, sex and overall health seems to play an important role as well, as statistics show 9 out of 10 sufferers are women over 40 years. Also, people with rheumatic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus are more likely to develop this ailment, in this case the syndrome being classified as ‘secondary’. When the autoimmune condition appears by itself and it’s not linked with other health issues, it is called primary Sjogren’s syndrome.
Often neglected or mistaken for other conditions due to the lack of specific symptoms, this ailment affects 3 to 4% of all adults, being the second most prevalent autoimmune disease after rheumatoid arthritis.
Signs and complications of Sjogren’s ailment
People dealing with this disorder experience an unpleasant itchiness and burning sensation in eyes as well as difficulties swallowing and speaking due to mouth dryness. This last manifestation, often referred to as ‘cotton mouth’ or xerostomia in medical terms, interferes with the sense of taste and affects the throat’s health, leading to infections, mouth sores, tooth and gum decay.
While the hallmark symptoms of this syndrome are mouth and eyes dryness, the ailment affects the entire organism because of its systemic character. Not only the functioning of the gastrointestinal tract is altered in people diagnosed with the Sjogren’s syndrome, but also the health of kidneys, blood vessels, pancreas, liver, lungs and central nervous system. Vaginal dryness, swollen and painful joints, skin dryness or rashes, swollen and painful salivary glands, persistent cough and increased tiredness are other manifestations linked with this condition.
Although in some patients these symptoms remain steady or go into remission without a specific treatment, in others they get worse and become debilitating, leading to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and severe eye damage. Early diagnosis is therefore crucial for reducing the risk of complications and improving one’s quality of life.
Medical treatments and home remedies
Even if no permanent cure for this syndrome has been found until now, there are a series of treatments and home remedies which can help in temporary relieving the symptoms and stopping them from getting worse. Eye drops can be administered for reducing eye dryness, and medicines like pilocarpine and cevimeline can be taken for increasing the production of saliva and keeping mouth dryness under control.
In patients experiencing arthritis symptoms besides the common manifestations of Sjogren’s syndrome, NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) may also be recommended for reducing inflammatory processes. In case the digestive tract is affected by yeast infections, antifungal medications should be taken for relieving this problem. Although less often prescribed, drugs like methotrexate and cyclosporine, which suppress the immune function, are also recommended for system-wide manifestations.
Another solution for relieving eye dryness is punctal occlusion, a surgical procedure which consists in closing the tear ducts with tiny collagen and silicon plugs. By doing so, the amount of tears available for maintaining the front part of the eye properly moisturized increases, so dryness is reduced. The inserted collagen plugs dissolve after a while but the silicon ones remain in place until they’re removed.
As for the available home and natural remedies, fatty acid supplements and ginseng roots can be successfully used for reducing inflammation, skin rash and dryness, joints swelling and for stimulating the production of tears. Avoiding hot showers, drinking plenty of water and lemon tea, maintaining a proper oral hygiene as well as increasing indoor humidity can help in reducing eye and mouth dryness appearing in the Sjogren’s syndrome.