Improving Dry Eyes, Treating Sjögren’s Syndrome
Prevention and Treatment I’m Julia Oleinik, I’m fifty-eight, and enjoy life with my family, friends, and one very poorly behaved schnauzer. I’m a retired RN, and I like to write, travel, and pretend to be a photographer.
And incidentally - I have Sjögren’s Syndrome.
Not familiar with Sjögren’s? Sjögren’s Syndrome is a systemic autoimmune disease which may impact the entire body but most often first presents itself by destroying moisture producing cells found in the mouth and eyes. In my earliest cluster of Sjögren’s Syndrome symptoms included fatigue, enlarged parotid glands, dry mouth, and painful reddened dry eyes. I manage my disease under the care of several health care providers who are knowledgeable about autoimmune disease and my eye care provider, who is an important member of that team. Under her guidance and during regular exams, I have learned several strategies that have greatly reduced the discomfort and blurry vision in my cranky dry eyes.
"Sjögren’s Syndrome symptoms included fatigue, enlarged parotid glands, dry mouth, and painful reddened dry eyes."
I quickly realized that the most important ally in my fight for healthy eyes is moisture, moisture, and more moisture. Since I don’t make a normal amount of tears, and the tears that I do make are lacking in the oils and proteins present in normal tears, my approach takes two forms to keep my eye surfaces healthy and moist. Here is a few of my strategies - they may help you too.
- Protect the existing moisture in the eyes.
- Wear good quality sunglasses that block all forms of UV radiation.
- Minimize contact with moisture-depleting moving air from wind, fans, car vents, or heating ducts.
- Lessen stress to the eyes by limiting the time spent in front of computers or other electronic screens.
- Illuminate reading surfaces with adequate light.
- Consciously remind oneself to blink frequently.
- Your eye care practitioner may recommend punctual plugs or cautery of the tear duct to help more of your tears remain on the eye surface.
- If you need surgery, alert surgical and anesthesiology staff to your dry eye condition.
- Replace moisture in your environment and eyes.
- Run a humidifier in the bedroom.
- Use artificial tears which are available in many forms: drops (with or without preservatives) gels, and ointments. Many patients use drops during the day, and gels or ointment at night. See what is most helpful for you. You may want to consider using preservative-free single use eye drops if you find yourself needing them more than four times a day. My eyes are happiest when I use preservative-free drops for frequent daytime use, and a night time ointment. Not all artificial tears are formulated the same, and different products help replace different components of your natural tears, so make sure you ask your eye care practitioner which artificial tear is right for you.
- Your eye care practitioner may recommend other tear replacement therapies such as prescription medication eye drops, and for severe cases autologous tears made from one’s own blood serum.