Sjögren’s is a chronic autoimmune disease in which people’s white blood cells attack their moisture-producing glands. Today, as many as four million Americans are living with this disease.
Although the hallmark symptoms are dry eyes and dry mouth, Sjögren’s may also cause dysfunction of other organs such as the kidneys, gastrointestinal system, blood vessels, lungs, liver, pancreas, and the central nervous system. Patients may also experience extreme fatigue and joint pain and have a higher risk of developing lymphoma.
With upwards of 4,000,000 Americans suffering from Sjögren’s, it is one of the most prevalent autoimmune disorders. Nine out of 10 patients are women.
About half of the time Sjögren’s occurs alone, and the other half it occurs in the presence of another autoimmune connective tissue disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or scleroderma.
Sjögren’s is a systemic disease, affecting the entire body. Symptoms may remain steady, worsen, or, uncommonly, go into remission. While some people experience mild discomfort, others suffer debilitating symptoms that greatly impair their functioning. Early diagnosis and proper treatment are important — they may prevent serious complications and greatly improve a patient’s quality of life.
Since symptoms of Sjögren’s mimic other conditions and diseases, Sjögren’s can often be overlooked or misdiagnosed. On average, it takes nearly 4.7 years to receive a diagnosis of Sjögren’s. Patients need to remember to be pro-active in talking with their physicians and dentists about their symptoms and potential treatment options.
Since the disease was first identified in 1933 by Dr. Henrik Sjögren, it has been proven to affect virtually every racial and ethnic group. General awareness about Sjögren’s is still lacking and increased professional awareness is needed to help expedite new diagnoses and treatment options.
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As anyone with Sjögren’s knows, many things can exacerbate the discomfort of dryness, while there are other factors that can either soothe the dryness or advance a condition of moisture that can prevent it.
Here are things you can do on a day-to-day basis that can alleviate your symptoms and help you feel and look better.
- Do Exercise
Regular exercise unquestionably does all sorts of good things for us. The main medical benefit is perhaps the power to decrease inflammation, which it does through the release of endorphins. For that reason, exercise contributes to the health of the ocular surface. Regular exercise- at least 20 minutes of exercise that increases your heart rate 5x a week- is highly recommended for dry eye sufferers.
- Do Take Showers
A hot bath can be a relaxing indulgence, but the steam tends to rise away from you. It’s much better to be upright in a shower, with the steam coming at you constantly. Moreover, whether you intend it or not, water from the shower head or bouncing off your body, splatters into your eyes and literally cleans them out.
- Do Catch some Zzzzzzs
I cannot emphasize enough how important getting as much sleep as possible is to mitigating the discomfort of dry eye. A deep sleep, replenishes the tear film and soothes the ocular surface.
- Do Drink Water
You should drink 6-8 glasses of water a day. That’s water- plain and simple- not sodas, sugary juices or artificially flavored drinks. Water is needed by all of the body’s organs- by the skin, the kidneys, the liver, the heart and the eyes as well.
- Do Keep up with Friends & Family
There is increasing evidence that social interaction is as good for us as exercise, a good night’s sleep or eating natural food. It is also a fact that the smile you wear while you’re happy with friends can actually reduce the exposure of the ocular surface.
- Don’t get Stressed
Stress can affect many other factors that have a direct impact on dry eye: sleep, your blink rate, and even what you eat. All of that leads to the kind of inflammation that can exacerbate a range of ailments, including a dry eye disorder. There are many different kinds of stress and there are many ways to manage it. Find the way that works for you, and learn as best you can to keep stress at a minimum.
- Don’t work your eyes too long
Perhaps the most important thing to avoid if you suffer from dry eye is a long stretch of consecutive visual tasking. Whether it’s working at a computer, watching television or reading- break up the time you spend doing it.
- Don’t Smoke, Drink Alcohol or Caffeine
Smoke, alcohol and caffeine all dehydrate the body, including the eyes. Be aware of what these activities are doing to your dry eye, and try to reduce the frequency or eliminate all three if you can.