Sjögren’s syndrome often affects the salivary and tear glands. Dry eye is one of the most common symptoms. There’s no cure for Sjögren’s syndrome, but there are many things you can do to make the related dry eye more manageable.

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Sjögren’s syndrome impacts between 1 and 4 million people in the United States, and many of those affected experience dry eyes, dry mouth, and dry skin.

If you’re starting to worry that your eyes may be feeling dry, it’s important to note that not everyone with Sjögren’s syndrome experiences severe dry eye. It’s also possible to have dry eye without it this syndrome.

We’ve gathered information to help you better understand Sjögren’s syndrome and its link to dry eye.

Sjögren’s syndrome is an autoimmune condition where white blood cells attack the salivary and tear glands.

This typically results in reduced tear production. In some cases, other parts of the body like nerves and joints can be affected. It’s unclear why this occurs, but may be linked to genetics or hormones, particularly the female sex hormone estrogen.

Symptoms of Sjögren’s syndrome may include:

  • dry eyes
  • dry mouth
  • dry skin
  • swollen salivary glands
  • muscle or joint pain.

Sometimes people with Sjögren’s have other autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. This is called secondary Sjögren’s syndrome. (Individuals with primary Sjögren’s syndrome do not have other related conditions.)

While Sjögren’s syndrome can begin at any age, most people are over 40 at the time they develop this condition. Women are also 9 times more likely than men to have it.

There’s currently no cure, but there are treatments to help relieve some of the symptoms.

Dry eye affects approximately 8% of people in the United States older than 50, and approximately 1 in 10 of these individuals have Sjögren’s syndrome.

Dry eye at a glance

Dry eye occurs when you don’t produce enough tears or a normal layer of tears is not maintained to coat your eyes. It can leave you more prone to bacterial infections and cause the surface of your eye to become inflamed.

Symptoms of dry eye include burning, redness, and eye pain. You may also experience watery tearing and stringy mucus. Your vision may be blurry, and you may have trouble reading for long periods of time. It may also feel like there is heavy sand in your eyes.

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Sjögren’s syndrome symptoms can vary, but dry eye is one of the most common. Because Sjögren’s syndrome is most common in women between 40 and 60 years old, this is the group most likely to experience dry eye as a result. Individuals of any age and race can be affected.

Sjögren’s syndrome can lead to serious eye problems including reduced vision and blindness, so it’s important to treat dry eye to help prevent it from potentially developing into a more serious problem.

People with dry eye due to Sjögren’s syndrome may find that they have blurred vision, eye fatigue, and difficulty with reading. They may also find themselves needing to blink more frequently.

Studies have found that individuals with Sjögren’s syndrome tend to have less severe dry eye discomfort symptoms than those who have dry eye not related to Sjögren’s syndrome. However, individuals with Sjögren’s syndrome tend to have more visual difficulty.

Individuals with Sjögren’s syndrome can experience varying degrees of dry eye, and it can change over time — remaining stable, worsening, or even going into remission for periods.

Although it’s rare, it’s possible to have Sjögren’s syndrome without dry eyes or mouth.

Some people have a version of Sjögren’s syndrome that includes symptoms of a rheumatic disease like arthritis, but not the dry eyes or mouth that many experience.

Treatment for dry eye related to Sjögren’s syndrome usually includes over-the-counter and prescription eye drops. If your eyes don’t respond to eye drops, your doctor may also suggest minor surgery to insert plugs into the tear ducts with the hope that this will preserve some of your tears.

There’s currently no cure for Sjögren’s syndrome, but there are many things you can do to make the related dry eye more manageable.

Some of these include:

  • protecting your eyes from drafts and avoiding smoky rooms
  • wearing wrap-around glasses
  • applying eye drops without preservatives throughout the day (your doctor may prescribe a steroid eye drop)
  • using humidifiers in rooms where you spend the most time
  • applying warm compresses to the eye if the lid becomes inflamed

Sjögren’s syndrome is an autoimmune condition that frequently attacks the salivary and tear glands. While not every individual with this condition gets dry eye as a result, it’s one of the most commonly experienced symptoms.

There’s no cure yet for Sjögren’s syndrome, but there are things you can do to help protect your eyes and decrease the unpleasant effects of dry eye. If you believe you have Sjögren’s syndrome, it’s important to talk with your doctor so they can help you to develop a plan to avoid complications and handle any symptoms like dry eye.