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Sjogren's Syndrome - Dry Eyes and Dry Mouth

Sjogren's Syndrome - Dry Eyes and Dry Mouth

Sjogren's syndrome is a disorder first defined by the Swedish Ophthalmologist, Dr. Henrik Sjogren in 1933, when he did a study on 19 females suffering from dry eyes and mouth.  The disease has since been characterized as an autoimmune disorder causing chronic inflammation in the body's glands.  While the classic signs are dry mouth and eyes other common symptoms are enlargement of salivary and parotid glands which are responsible for the subsequent dryness in both.  The syndrome is caused by the permeation of lymphocytes and plasma cells into the exocrine glands that develop moisture.

Sjogren's syndrome has two forms. The primary form can include complications with the body's throat, trachea, joints, lungs, muscles, kidneys, nerves, liver, pancreas, stomach, gastrointestinal tract, thyroid gland, blood vessels, and brain.  It also may cause skin, nose, vulva, and vaginal dryness or even blindness in the rarest of cases.  The common dryness in the eye can result in eye irritation, decreased tear production, infection, and even damage to the cornea while the mouth dryness can cause a loss of certain smells and tastes, an inability to eat dry foods or talk for prolonged periods, difficulties swallowing, dental decay, gum disease, mouth sores and infections inside the mouth.  Patients may also complain of fatigue and even notice the development of rashes on the body. 

The secondary form of Sjogren's syndrome includes all the complications that can appear with the primary form, but patients also suffer from some form of a rheumatic disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus ("lupus"), polymyositis, or systemic sclerosis.

The syndrome occurs predominantly in middle-aged women, but it can affect anyone at any age.  One million people in the United States alone, suffer from some form of Sjogren's syndrome.  Even though the disease is widespread, very little is known as to what causes it.  There has been scientific evidence that confirms genetics as a contributing factor in developing Sjogren's, especially if a family member suffers from an autoimmune illness.  Inherited HLA antigens may also be a cause, which have been found in a large population of patients suffering from Sjogren's syndrome.  Other speculated contributing factors are viral infections and hormones.

Sjogren's syndrome can only be diagnosed by a doctor using a tear or blood test. While there is no cure for Sjogren's syndrome, doctors can prescribe eye lubricant ointments, eye drops, or even block the tear duct to help keep moisture.  To help with dry mouth, patients are asked to drink lots of fluids, use a humidifier at home, and receive regular dental care as well as practice it at home.  Doctors may prescribe saliva stimulants or ask patients to help their own saliva production by sucking on sugarless lemon drops. With other infections and rheumatic diseases that may form, doctors will treat the illnesses with the proper antibiotics.

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