In light of World Sjogren’s Day, I would like to dedicate this post to educating suffers from Sjogren’s Syndrome and their friends and family about the moisture-producing-gland-attacking disorder.
What is Sjogren’s Syndrome?
According to WebMD, “Sjögren’s syndrome is a disorder in which the immune system attacks the body’s moisture-producing glands, such as the tear glands and the saliva glands, causing extreme dryness in the eyes and mouth.”
What are the symptoms of Sjogren’s?
The most common and aggravating symptoms are extreme dry eyes and mouth. “Other symptoms include eye itching and burning, fatigue, and joint pain. Sjogren’s sometimes develops in people with other autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or scleroderma,” according to WebMD.
What are the causes of Sjogren’s?
Sjogren’s possibly has a genetic link. While there is no known cause, there is suspicion that a bacterial or viral infection could cause a defective gene to turn on and cause the immune system to go “haywire”. In other words, the immune system becomes confused and instead of fighting foreign invaders, it attacks healthy cells. Specifically, in Sjogren’s the immune system attacks moisture-producing glands.
According to some scientific articles, it may take a person on average 4.7 years to be diagnosed. After learning that you have Sjogren’s you may feel relieved to know exactly the disorder you suffer from so that you can be better guided with your health.
Is there is a cure for Sjogren’s?
While there is no cure for many autoimmune disorders, there is treatment that your doctor can prescribe to help manage the disorder.
What are some over-the-counter treatments?
For the Eyes
Daily use of artificial tears will help relieve dryness. Artificial tears come in varying levels of viscosity. Since extreme dry eyes are a common symptom, you may find yourself using eye drops several types a day. Choose preservative-free eye drops, like Clear Eyes® or Thera Tears (Here is a $2.00 off coupon). You may find that some brands work better for you than others. For some people, chemical/hexane-free 100% organic Castor oil has provided greater nighttime relief.
At night, turn off ceiling fans or aim any fans in the room away from your face. Use eye masks or eye goggles, if that helps. Some people mention using humidifiers to help add moisture in the room. You may also find some relief putting a cooling mask over your eyes.
For the Mouth
Dry mouth is common in Sjogren’s due to reduced saliva production. Reduced saliva production can lead to cavities. Avoid drinking soda and eating sticky sugary foods like dried fruits, taffy, and other candies. Biotene mouthwash and moisturizing spray can help relieve dry mouth symptoms. Chewing sugar-free gum can also assist the glands in producing saliva and prevent cavities. Sip water throughout the day. It is generally recommended to drink half of your weight in ounces, or until the color of your urine becomes noticeably clear.
For the Skin and Hair
Some people with Sjogren’s may notice dry skin and hair. Before a shower or bath, use coconut oil on your hair and skin. It will provide moisture to your roots and avoid breakage. After a shower or bath, within an hour – while your pores are still open, lather on lotion or oil on your skin and a leave-in conditioner for your hair. Your hair and skin will thank you for it later.
For the Diet
While there is no “Sjogren’s Diet” per se, any diet that promotes anti-inflammation may help lower the immune system’s reaction and thus, provide relief.
Eating anti-inflammatory foods over time may provide some relief from Sjogren’s symptoms. Dr. David Seaman has done over 30 years of research on the link between inflammation and autoimmune diseases, which he attributes prolonged inflammation to the rise of autoimmune diseases in people. He recommends the “Deflame Diet”, which is similar to the Paleo diet. The main difference is that dairy is OK from time to time since he did not find conclusive evidence that dairy causes inflammation. Dr. Terry Wahl’s recommend a similar diet in her book The Wahls Protocol, that combines “Paleo principles and functional medicine.”
In general, avoid refined grains, oils, and sugar. Eat plenty of vegetables and low-glycemic fruits, like berries, citrus, or apples.
For those interested in natural remedies, you may seek advice from a homeopathic or naturopathic doctor. Studies are ongoing in regard to the effectiveness of Chinese herbal medicine. One randomized control trial suggests that “the effectiveness of Chinese herbal medicine is promising for relieving symptoms [by] improving lacrimal and salivary function in primary Sjogren’s Syndrome.” More studies are needed to provide strong evidence.
For the Mind
Stress can elicit an immune response. With Sjogren’s, stress can do a number on your body and you will notice it through your symptoms. Therefore, you must find ways to manage stress. Get 7-9 hours of sleep daily. Try other anti-stress techniques such as aromatherapy, massages, meditation and learning time management skills.
If you suffer from Sjogren’s syndrome, you have my sincerest sympathy. I know it can feel like torture at times. Functioning with Sjogren’s Syndrome day to day can feel debilitating, but there is still hope when you understand what can trigger an immune response and what therapeutic measures you can use to provide relief. As always, when symptoms become intractable be sure to seek advice from a doctor.
I hope the moisture-seeking friends out there will find this post helpful. If you have Sjogren’s, leave me a comment below on how you find ways to manage Sjogren’s.