What Is Sjögren’s Syndrome? Here's Everything You Should Know

 Sjögren’s Syndrome is a rare immune disorder that triggers dry mouth and eyes. Read to know details about it from an ENT specialist.

Navya Kharbanda
Written by: Navya KharbandaUpdated at: Dec 16, 2020 21:54 IST
What Is Sjögren’s Syndrome? Here's Everything You Should Know

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Sjögren’s Syndrome is a slowly progressive chronic kind of an autoimmune disorder. Most of the time, people with this condition have dry eyes and dry mouth because the secreting cells are adversely affected and do not produce enough secretions as they should normally. Therefore, the eyes and the mouth where we have oil glands and the saliva secreting glands, these are the ones that are affected. In this disorder, the body's immune system attacks its own healthy cells that produce saliva and tears. So, instead of fighting harmful bacteria and viruses, the immune system starts attacking your own healthy cells. Sjögren's syndrome often occurs in people with other autoimmune health problems like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Women, especially those above age 40 are most commonly diagnosed with this. Onlymyhealth editorial team spoke to Dr. Reita Prakash, Senior Consultant - ENT, Max Multi Speciality Centre, Noida, about Sjogren's syndrome. Read on to know details about it.

Sjogren's syndrome symptoms

There is a very vast range of severity of syndromes. Sjogren's syndrome also affects most of the other organs in the body such as joints, skin, lungs, liver or kidneys, but it is less frequent and sometimes can be affected more severely. However, one doesn't need to worry as people suffering from Sjogren's stay healthy and don't have any serious health problems mostly. There is no exact cause behind the occurrence of this syndrome, but it might get triggered because if an infection or defentive gene. According to Dr. Reita, the symptoms of Sjogren's syndrome are:

1. Dry mouth can make it even difficult for you to swallow and speak as there is almost no amount of saliva left in your mouth.

2. Dry eyes is also another common symptom in which you might feel slight burning, itching and even dusty as the tears have decreased so much. 

dry mouth

3. Arthritis or joint pain is the most reported symptom associated with this disease besides the usual ones. Treatment is given according to these symptoms.

4. Sometimes, a rare sign may be the swelling of salivary glands. It affects the glands that are behind your jaw and in front of your ears.

Also read: Study: Eye Drops Made With Human Antibodies Can Treat Dry Eyes

Other rare symptoms of Sjogren's syndrome are:

  • Dry skin
  • Persistent fatigue
  • Dry cough
  • Change in taste or smell due to excess dryness
  • Vaginal dryness in women
  • Heartburn
  • Dry lips and nose
  • Skin rash
  • Headache

Sjogren's Syndrome diagnosis and treatment

Sjogren's Syndrome diagnosis is quite difficult as the signs differ from person to person. One can only try and reduce the symptoms through different ways. The diagnosis is basically done through blood tests. Indications of problems with your liver and kidneys or any inflammation conditions are checked. Your doctor might even do eye tests to check the dryness level. Dr. Reita said, "The treatment of Sjogren's syndrome depends upon the severity of symptoms in the patient. Typically, it is the treatment of dryness in oral cavity or dryness of the eyes, but only if it goes to other parts of the body, as per severity, drugs that suppress the immune system, such as methotrexate, Salagen to stimulate saliva production, steroids, etc, are prescribed."

The treatment of this syndrome depends upon the underlying cause and symptom. Some people might have just dry eyes and all that is required is just to use lubricating eye drops and avoid dust by wearing protective eyewear, or in case of dry mouth, simple sounding things like drinking more water and chewing sugar free gum to stimulate saliva production. These steps can sometimes correct these important symptoms without much medication at all. It is called an autoimmune disorder because white blood cells are supposed to fight against the germs but it does not do that and attacks the glands that make saliva and tears. Sjogren's is a very rare syndrome but can be handled easily with your doctor's advice. Some tests that are mostly recommended for Sjogren's syndrome are:

1. Schirmer tear test measures the level of your eye's dryness. In this test, the doctor will put a piece of paper under your lower eyelid to see how much tears might drop from your eye.

2. Dry spots can also tell about Sjogren's syndrome. Therefore, dye tests and done by a doctor after experiencing the symptoms. Your doctor puts drops of dye in your eyes to check for dry spots.

eye drops

3. Another way to check is a slit lamp. The medical professional may use a magnifying glass to take a close look in your eyes.

4. A salivary flow test is also a diagnosis test to see the amount of saliva in your mouth. It is done to check how much saliva you can make in a specific period of time.

5. In some cases, a salivary gland biopsy is also recommended by the doctors. For this test, your doctor might take a sample of your salivary gland, mostly from your lower lip. This gives an indication about the rare condition known as lymphocytic infiltrate, which is a buildup of white blood cells that look like bumps.

6. Sometimes, the doctors may also suggest an imaging test called Salivary scintigraphy.

Can lifestyle changes help in coping up with Sjogren's Syndrome?

Certain lifestyle changes can also help with this disease. Sometimes, your genes mat even put you at a higher risk of developing Sjogren's syndrome. The decrease in tears and saliva can be reduced by making small efforts. As suggested by Dr. Reita, here are 5 lifestyle moderations that you can make to cope up with Sjogren's syndrome:

1. Restrict caffeine

Drinking caffeinated drinks like coffee and tea can be one a major cause behind dry mouth. You should not make coffee a part of your daily routine as it can make the situation of this syndrome even worse. Therefore, restricting caffeine consumption is one of the best ways in this situation.

Also read: If You Have Dry Mouth, Do Not Take It Casually

2. Avoid alcohol

Even alcohol can be a major reason behind dry mouth. Dry mouth being a common symptom of Sjogren's syndrome can move to an advanced stage by consuming alcohol. So, it is important to avoid alcohol if you are suffering from this disease.

3. Do not eat oily foods

oily foods

Eating things that dry up the mouth is not good for you during this time. A patient of Sjogren's syndrome should have high water content fruits like water melon and oranges, instead of oily foods. Oily and spicy foods can make you very thirsty and make your mouth dry.

4. No smoking and chewing tobacco

Smoking and chewing tobacco are to be seriously avoided in Sjogren's syndrome. The treatment work better and in and effective way of you avoid tobacco. The nicotine in tobacco products is known to minimize saliva flow, so it is suggested to restrict smoking and chewing tobacco.

5. Stay hydrated

This lifestyle moderation is not just important for Sjogren's syndrome patients but is good for your overall health too. Drinking enough water and juices is essential, since whatever little secretion is forming can be sustained if you are not dehydrated.

Also read: Arthritis and cold: How To Take Care Of Your Joints & Bones During Winters

6. Oral rinses

Oral rinses and eye drops can also help mitigate your symptoms from this condition. They can help in keeping your mouth hydrated and leaving this effect for longer periods. Oral rinses for dry mouth and prescribed eye drops for dry eyes, can be used regularly to reduce the symptoms. Moreover, brush your teeth everyday and fix dentist appointments regularly. 

These were the symptoms and treatment for Sjögren's Syndrome by Dr. Reita Prakash. In some cases, there can even be serious complications from Sjogren's syndrome. It can have a negative impact on your dental hygiene and lead to yeast infections, numbness, lymphoma and vision problems too.

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