In Sjogren’s syndrome, your immune system attacks the moisture-producing glands of your eyes, mouth, and other areas, causing chronic dryness. In some cases, Sjogren’s can cause serious health problems and may be life-threatening.
Sjogren’s syndrome can be challenging to diagnose because symptoms may mimic other conditions. The specialists at Rheumatology and Allergy Institute of Connecticut are experienced with diagnosing conditions where your immune system attacks healthy tissue, such as Sjogren’s syndrome. Our team performs a thorough evaluation and recommends treatment once they confirm a diagnosis.
What is Sjogren’s syndrome?
Sjogren’s syndrome is a chronic autoimmune disease. It occurs when a type of white blood cell attacks the glands that produce saliva and tears. This prevents the glands from working properly. As a result, tear and saliva production decreases, causing your mouth, eyes, skin, nose, and upper respiratory tract to become dry.
Sjogren’s is linked to autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Timely treatment can reduce complications and tissue damage. Once treatment starts, most people can manage their condition well.
While Sjogren’s syndrome can occur at any age, it’s more likely to develop after age 40. It’s also more common in women.
Telltale symptoms of Sjogren’s
The severity of Sjogren’s varies from person to person. Dry eyes and dry mouth are the most common Sjogren’s symptoms.
Your eyes may feel extremely dry as a result of decreased tear production. They might itch or burn, causing excessive blinking. It can feel as though sand is lodged in your eyes. In some cases, blurred vision can occur.
Because your body has trouble producing saliva, you may experience difficulty swallowing when symptoms flare up. Your mouth may feel chalky, and you may have trouble swallowing food. Many people with Sjogren’s develop cavities and oral infections.
The disease can affect other parts of the body as well. You may notice dryness in your nose, throat, or skin. Sjogren's syndrome can also affect your joints, lungs, kidneys, blood vessels, digestive organs, and nerves. As a result, you may experience:
- Joint pain and swelling
- Dry skin
- Skin rashes
- Dry cough
- Swollen glands
- Vaginal dryness
- Pain when urinating
With Sjogren’s, you may also experience brain fog, muscle aches, and bouts of fatigue.
The goal of Sjogren’s treatment is to reduce chronic dryness and prevent potentially serious complications. Common medications we use for treatment have a short-term effect and require multiple doses per day.
Artificial tears, in various forms, aid in the replacement of decreased tear production. Preservative-free artificial tears provide lubrication without irritation.
Saliva substitutes and mouth-coating gels can help relieve mouth dryness. They come in sprays, pre-treated swabs, and liquids. These are especially important at night, when your mouth becomes drier. To combat dry mouth, your provider may prescribe medication to stimulate saliva.
Your doctor may prescribe disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) to treat joint pain accompanied by fatigue and rashes. Corticosteroids can reduce inflammation and suppress the immune system in cases where Sjogren's disease affects your muscles, nerves, lungs, or kidneys.
Living well with Sjogren’s syndrome
Working closely with a specialist is key to effectively managing autoimmune conditions like Sjogren’s syndrome. If you have symptoms of Sjogren’s and are seeking evaluation, or if you have a Sjogren’s diagnosis, the Rheumatology and Allergy institute of Connecticut team can help.
Give us a call at our office in Manchester, Connecticut, where a helpful team member can assist you in scheduling a visit with one of our providers. You can also request an appointment online.