Dry Eyes or Mouth May Signal Sjögren’s Syndrome

Symptoms of dry eyes or a dry throat are often attributed to medications or allergies, but they also may be related to Sjögren’s syndrome, an immune system disorder.

With Sjögren’s (pronounced SHOW-grins), the body’s immune system attacks its own cells and tissues. It is usually related to another health concern affecting the immune system, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis or scleroderma. It can occur at any age, but most often it impacts people over age 40. Approximately 4 million Americans are affected by Sjögren’s syndrome, which tends to occur more often in women.

Sjögren’s usually first targets the moisture-secreting glands in the eyes and mouth, impacting the production of saliva and tears. At this stage, people report that their eyes burn, itch or feel gritty, and their mouth is filled with cotton, which makes swallowing and speaking a challenge.

Currently, medical professionals have not identified the exact cause of Sjögren’s, but they believe it tends to run in families and may occur after individuals have been exposed to a specific type of virus or bacteria strain. Unfortunately, due to the spectrum of symptoms and physical ailments related to the syndrome, it can take many years for doctors to make an accurate diagnosis.

Often, individuals with Sjögren’s suffer from a variety of additional health problems, including painful joints, swollen glands behind the jaw or near the ears, dry skin or rashes, constant coughing or lingering fatigue.

Medical researchers believe it also may harm organs in the body, such as the thyroid, kidneys, liver or lungs, and some people also have experienced nerve damage. Since Sjögren’s can impact several different areas of the body, individuals may require care from several specialists to find appropriate treatment solutions, such as artificial tears, mouth lubricants, antibiotic prescriptions or steroid medications.

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