Most people, if they’re familiar with Sjögren’s syndrome at all, think of it as a disease that makes the mouth dry and the eyes gritty. That’s true, but it can affect the skin, mucous membranes, circulatory and nervous systems, as well as the heart, liver and kidneys. Here’s a look at what Sjögren’s can do to you – and what you can do to fight back. 

Mouth

Dry mouth can be more than uncomfortable. Without the protection saliva offers, you may experience tooth decay, mouth pain, oral infections and difficulty swallowing.

Treatment: Many people get the relief they need from artificial saliva products, which are available over the counter under various trade names including Glandosane, MoiStir, MouthKote, Optimoist, Oralube, Salivart and Xero-Lube, says Robert I. Fox, MD, a leading Sjögren's expert and practicing rheumatologist at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, Calif.

Also helpful are toothpastes and mouth rinses developed specially for dry mouth. These include:

  • Biotene Dry Mouth Toothpaste and Biotene Mouthwash with Calcium
  • CloSYS Toothpaste (formerly Retardent) and CloSYS Oral Rinse (formerly RetarDEX Oral Rinse)
  • Orajel Dry Mouth Moisturizing Toothpaste
  • If replacing moisture doesn’t relieve dryness, your doctor may prescribe a medication to stimulate your own salivary glands to produce more saliva. Two such drugs, pilocarpine (Salagen) and cevimeline (Evoxac), are approved for dry mouth associated with Sjögren’s syndrome.

Tips for relieving a dry mouth. 

  • Keep a water bottle with you and sip throughout the day.
  • Suck on sugar-free candy or lozenges or chew sugar-free gum.
  • If possible, avoid using drugs such as antihistamines and antidepressants that cause dryness.
  • Avoid mouthwashes with alcohol which can worsen dryness.

For an inexpensive option to oral lubricants that is available in almost any pharmacy or discount store, Dr. Fox recommends vaginal lubricants. Although they aren't marketed for oral use, the FDA requires safety testing for vaginal lubricants and the risk of side effects is small, he says.

Eyes

Like dry mouth, dry eyes can cause more than discomfort. Untreated dryness can damage the eye's surface, increase the risk of infection and even impair vision.

Treatment: If you suffer from dry eyes, artificial tears may help restore moisture. Many are available over the counter under trade names including Artificial Tears, Bion Tears, Gonak, Isopto Tears, Lacril, Nature’s Tears, Ocucoat Refresh and Systane. If dryness is still a problem, your doctor may prescribe the immunosuppressive drug cyclosporine in the form of an eye drop (Restasis) to be applied every 12 hours or a cellulose pellet (Lacrisert) that is placed in the lower eye lid where it dissolves, adding moisture, when artificial tears are used.