How Can I Find Relief From the Dryness in My Eyes + Mouth Caused by Sjögren’s?

The short answer from a rheumatologist
Eyes and mouth drawn in sand representing dryness of eyes and mouth

Q: I have Sjögren’s syndrome, and I have dryness in my eyes and mouth. Is there anything I can do about this?

A: Sjögren’s syndrome is a chronic autoimmune disease. In autoimmune diseases, the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue with an inflammatory response. In Sjögren’s syndrome, the inflammation mostly affects moisture-producing glands, especially your tear and saliva glands. This causes dry eyes and dry mouth.

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You may experience a gritty feeling in your eyes, and your eyes may be sensitive to light or have a burning sensation. Dry eyes can increase your risk for eye infections and damage to the cornea. Having a dry mouth can make swallowing difficult. It increases your risk for tooth decay, gum inflammation and other dental problems. Some people have dryness in their nasal passages, skin and vagina.

Other possible problems are joint pain and fatigue. Sjögren’s syndrome can also affect the lungs, liver and kidney.

About 90% of people with Sjögren’s syndrome are women. About half of people who have it also have other another autoimmune disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.

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Unfortunately, there is no cure for Sjögren’s. Treatment focuses on relieving symptoms and preventing complications. Topical treatments, both prescription and over the counter, for dry eyes and dry mouth (such as Biotene®) are available. Drugs include cevimeline (Evoxac®), pilocarpine (Salagen®) or saliva substitutes for dry mouth and cyclosporine ophthalmic (Restasis®) or hydroxypropyl cellulose (Lacrisert®) for dry eyes. There are many over-the counter artificial tears too.

Treatment often requires coordination among different specialists, including your rheumatologist, ophthalmologist and dentist.

— Rheumatologist Chad Deal, MD

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This article originally appeared in Cleveland Clinic Arthritis Advisor.

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