Sjögren’s syndrome can cause painful, unpleasant dryness throughout the body. While there is no cure at this time, there are many strategies you may use to feel better quickly, and prevent serious complications down the road.

Severe dryness of usually moist body tissues, such as mouth, eyes, skin and vagina, are the hallmark symptoms of Sjögren’s syndrome. Some people may experience dryness of the nose or throat as well. Dryness in these tissues can lead to other problems, such as infections in cracked skin, yeast infections in the vagina, or corneal ulcers in the eye. Some people have swollen parotid glands on the sides of their faces, and in a small percentage of people, Sjögren’s syndrome can cause a form of lymphoma, or cancer.

Sjögren’s syndrome is best treated by a rheumatologist, or doctor specializing in rheumatic diseases. You may also regularly visit an ophthalmologist (eye specialist), gynecologist (women’s reproductive specialist) or dentist as part of a healthcare team. Your goal is to manage symptoms through medications, self-care and preventive strategies, and adopt healthy living practices to boost fitness and well-being.

Treatments for Dry Eyes

Eyes affected by Sjögren’s may burn, or feel dry, irritated, red, painful and gritty. Eyes are naturally lubricated by tears, moisture secreted through the tiny ducts on your eyelids. In Sjögren’s syndrome, inflammation of the glands that produce tears interferes with moisture production.

Medications to help boost moisture in the eye include:

  • over-the-counter eyedrops that mimic natural tears, widely available in drugstores.
  • prescription-only cyclosporine ophthalmic emulsion (Restasis), an immunomodulator eyedrop (meaning it triggers the immune processes that create tears naturally) placed in each eye twice a day.

Another strategy for dry eyes is punctal occlusion, minor surgery to plug one of the two tear ducts in each eyelid. The purpose of this treatment is to close one duct so more tears are pooled in the eye, boosting lubrication. An ophthalmologist may either plug the ducts with temporary tiny collagen plugs or long-term silicone plugs. Either may be removed. Some doctors also use laser treatments to permanently seal the ducts.

Self-care and preventive strategies may also improve dry eye symptoms. Increasing indoor humidity with a humidifier or avoiding sitting in front of fans or vents can help decrease dryness. You may also try using goggles outdoors to protect eyes from wind and dust – prescription models are available, or you can pick up an inexpensive pair of safety goggles at the home improvement store. Get regular eye exams as often as your rheumatologist or ophthalmologist recommends, possibly annual or more often, depending on your eye condition. If you notice any pain or redness in your eyes, seek medical attention promptly, as these symptoms may signal and eye infection.