Symptoms of Sjögren's Syndrome
Sjogren's Syndrome is a chronic autoimmune disorder in which the body's immune system attacks its own moisture-producing glands, including the tear and saliva glands. This results in a range of symptoms, many of which are related to the eyes. In fact, nearly half of the 4 million Americans living with sjogren's syndrome experience ocular manifestations, making it crucial for patients to recognize these symptoms and seek appropriate care from our eye care professional. The following are some key ocular symptoms associated with sjogren's syndrome:
One of the most common symptoms of sjogren's syndrome is dry eyes, also known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca. This condition occurs when the lacrimal glands fail to produce enough tears to keep the eyes moist, resulting in itchiness, redness, and a gritty sensation in the eyes. In severe cases, dry eyes can lead to corneal abrasions and even vision loss. Learn more about dry eyes here.
Eye pain and sensitivity
Many patients with sjogren's syndrome experience eye pain, often described as a burning or stinging sensation. This discomfort can be exacerbated by sensitivity to light, known as photophobia, making it difficult for those affected to spend time outdoors or in brightly lit environments.
Due to the lack of moisture on the ocular surface, sjogren's syndrome can cause blurred or fluctuating vision. This symptom is often more pronounced in the morning or after periods of prolonged visual focus, such as reading or using a computer. Learn more about blurred vision here.
The decreased tear production associated with sjogren's syndrome impairs the eyes' natural defense mechanisms, making them more susceptible to infections such as conjunctivitis or blepharitis. These infections can cause red, swollen, and watery eyes, as well as crusting and discharge.
In severe cases, the chronic dryness and inflammation caused by sjogren's syndrome can lead to corneal ulcerations, which are open sores on the surface of the eye. If left untreated, these ulcerations can result in permanent scarring and vision loss. Learn more about corneal ulcers here.
This is a rare but potentially debilitating condition where strands of mucus or cellular debris, known as filaments, adhere to the cornea's surface. These filaments can cause significant discomfort, foreign body sensation, and even corneal abrasions.
Meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD)
Sjogren's syndrome can affect the meibomian glands, which are responsible for producing the oily layer of the tear film. MGD can result in an unstable tear film, causing increased evaporation of tears and exacerbating dry eye symptoms. Learn more about meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD) here.
Episcleritis and scleritis
Inflammation of the episclera (the outer layer of the sclera) or the sclera itself can cause red, painful, and swollen eyes. Although rare, scleritis can be a severe and potentially sight-threatening complication of sjogren's syndrome.
Chronic inflammation associated with sjogren's syndrome can lead to narrowing or even closure of the tear duct openings (puncta), further aggravating dry eye symptoms.
This is an inflammation of the blood vessels in the retina, which can lead to vision loss if not treated promptly. While relatively rare in sjogren's syndrome, retinal vasculitis is a severe ocular manifestation that requires immediate attention.
In some cases, sjogren's syndrome can affect the nerves responsible for corneal sensation and healing, leading to a condition called neurotrophic keratitis. This can cause persistent corneal epithelial defects, which can be challenging to treat and may lead to vision loss.
Although less common, sjogren's syndrome can cause inflammation of the uvea, which is the middle layer of the eye, composed of the iris, ciliary body, and choroid. Uveitis can result in pain, light sensitivity, and blurred vision, and if left untreated, can cause permanent vision loss.
Given the extensive list of ocular symptoms that can be associated with sjogren's syndrome, it is essential to remain vigilant and consult with our eye care professional if you experience any unusual or persistent eye-related issues. Our clinic is dedicated to providing comprehensive eye care for patients with Sjogren's Syndrome and other ocular conditions, working closely with other healthcare providers to ensure the best possible outcomes for our patients.