Sjogren syndrome is an autoimmune disorder, which means that the immune system is attacking healthy cells and tissues instead of microorganisms invading the body. In this particular condition, the afflicted individual’s immune system zooms in on glands that produce and secrete fluids such as the salivary and tear glands. It’s for this reason why the primary symptoms of Sjogren syndrome are excessive dryness of the mouth and eyes.
The condition is more common in women, and it can also cause dryness of the vaginal area. Although it isn’t commonly a life-threatening problem, it can cause an assortment of complications. For instance, health authorities say that those with Sjogren syndrome are about 44% more likely to develop cancer of the lymphatic system (non-Hodgkin lymphoma) than those who don’t have the autoimmune disorder.
Causes of Sjogren Syndrome
To date, no one really knows the exact cause of Sjogren syndrome. What experts do know is the fact that it is primarily caused by the immune system wherein it attacks the body’s own healthy cells and tissues rather than target invading bacteria, viruses, parasites, etc. that can cause diseases and infections.
Certain studies suggest that the condition may be triggered by a combination of factors, ranging from heredity, hormones and the environment. It is also believed that certain infections may cause the immune system to go haywire and start attacking the secretory glands of the body, resulting in Sjogren syndrome.
Two Classifications of the Condition
Health authorities classify Sjogren syndrome into two kinds — primary and secondary. Here’s the difference between the two classifications:
- Primary – Sjogren syndrome develops on its own and not as a direct cause of another health issue.
- Secondary – The condition is brought about by a currently existing problem, usually another autoimmune disorder such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.
It is not very easy to have Sjogren syndrome diagnosed because much of the presenting signs and symptoms are similar to many other conditions. Also, there is currently no test available for the autoimmune disorder. A specialist will base the diagnosis on the symptoms.
Symptoms of Sjogren Syndrome
As earlier mentioned, the primary symptoms of Sjogren syndrome are excessive dryness of the mouth and eyes as the immune system attacks and damages both the salivary and tear glands. Other symptoms may stem from those two, such as: gum disease, tooth decay, oral fungal infection, dry cough, difficulty in speaking, chewing and swallowing, itchy eyes, irritated eyelids, and sensitivity to light (photophobia).
Women afflicted with Sjogren syndrome may also suffer from vaginal dryness. In severe cases of the condition, the immune system may also target other parts of the body, thus causing various symptoms like dry skin, muscle pain, joint pain and inflammation, tiredness, mental fatigue and inflammation of the blood vessels (vasculitis).
Treating the Condition
Unfortunately, there is no known cure for an autoimmune disorder like Sjogren syndrome. What can be treated are the various symptoms as well as the complications that may arise from the condition, if there are cures available for them.
Mild to moderate eye dryness can be treated with eye drops formulated to mimic tears. There are numerous brands of such eye drops currently around, with most of them available OTC. In case there’s irritation of the eyes, a doctor may prescribe an eye drop with corticosteroids to manage the inflammation, although using it is limited to short-term basis only.
Wearing the so-called moisture chamber spectacles may also be recommended by a specialist. These are special eyeglasses that resemble goggles, designed to help reduce the rate of the evaporation of moisture in the eyes.
When it comes to dealing with dryness of the mouth, there are saliva substitutes that may help manage this particular symptom of Sjogren syndrome. They come in the form of gels, sprays, lozenges and gum.
Someone with Sjogren syndrome should take good care of the mouth as he or she is more susceptible to various oral problems such as gum disease and tooth decay. Maintaining good oral hygiene is very important for an individual with the autoimmune disorder. Regular use of special mouth rinses is recommended to ward off infection. Increasing the intake of fluids and sucking on ice cubes may be done to keep the mouth moist. The person with Sjogren syndrome may also chew sugar-free gum to stimulate the salivary glands to produce more saliva.