Sjögren’s syndrome: dry eyes and dry mouth

Sjögren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disease: the immune system destroys the tear glands and salivary glands. Ophthalmologist Hendrik Sjögren wrote his first scientific article about the condition in 1930. He called the disease: keratoconjunctivitis sicca, today the condition is known as Sjögren’s syndrome. Dry eyes, a dry mouth, difficulty swallowing and joint complaints are among the symptoms. How is Sjögren’s syndrome diagnosed and treated? Can the condition be cured?

Article content

  • Sjögren’s syndrome
  • How did Sjögren’s syndrome get its name?
  • Lacrimal glands
  • Cause of Sjögren’s syndrome
  • Symptoms of Sjögren’s syndrome
  • Diagnosis Sjögren’s syndrome
  • Treatment of Sjögren’s syndrome
  • Learn more about Sjögren’s syndrome

Sjögren’s syndrome

Sjögren’s syndrome is a chronic condition in which the eyes and mouth become dry due to inflamed tear and salivary glands. In addition, glands in the skin, throat and nasal cavity can also be affected. It is an autoimmune disease: the body sees the glands as foreign and attacks them. This results in inflammation and damage.

How did Sjögren’s syndrome get its name?

In 1929, a woman came to the office of ophthalmologist Henrik Sjögren. She suffered from several things: no tears when she cried, a dry mouth and painful joints. A combination of these complaints had only been described once, in 1926 by Henri Gougerot (a French skin doctor). Henrik Sjögren studied the condition further and wrote a scientific article about it. He called the condition keratoconjunctivitis sicca . The condition is now known as Sjögren’s syndrome.

Lacrimal glands

Proper functioning of the tear glands is important for the condition of the eyes. Each eye has a tear gland, also called the glandula lacrimalis. The lacrimal gland is located above the eye, on the outside in the eye socket. The tear glands, together with glands in the eyelids, produce tear fluid. The moisture provides protection. The eyelids can slide easily over the cornea and the tears keep the cornea clear. The tear fluid also rinses the eyes and contains proteins and antibodies that prevent the risk of eye infections. Without tear fluid, the eyes dry out and become cloudy, which in extreme cases can lead to severe inflammation. Vision can then be affected.

Cause of Sjögren’s syndrome

Sjögren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disease. It is not known what causes it, but hereditary factors may play a role. The syndrome is nine times more common in women than in men. It usually affects people between the ages of forty and sixty.

Symptoms of Sjögren’s syndrome

The main symptoms develop over a number of years:

  • The eyes feel dry and may turn red;
  • A dry feeling in the mouth;
  • A dry tongue;
  • Difficulty swallowing and dental problems, this is due to a lack of saliva;
  • Sometimes joint complaints that resemble the complaints of rheumatoid arthritis.

Diagnosis Sjögren’s syndrome

A doctor can make the diagnosis based on the symptoms a person has and a physical examination. Furthermore, the blood can be examined for antibodies, the amount of tear fluid can be measured and a piece of the salivary glands can be taken from the lip for examination.

Treatment of Sjögren’s syndrome

Sjögren’s syndrome cannot be cured , but the symptoms can be controlled. Treatment is usually required for the rest of life. Artificial tears may be prescribed. The tear ducts can possibly be closed to ensure that tear drainage is reduced. It is important to drink plenty of fluids and to have regular dental checks by the dentist. If the symptoms are very severe, a corticosteroid or immunosuppressant may be prescribed to combat the inflammation.

Learn more about Sjögren’s syndrome

More information can be found on the website of the National Association of Sjögren Patients: nvsp.nl.

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