Like the syndrome I was diagnosed with, my story is not that uncommon. I share it to hopefully help others. It all started with dry eyes. I was using eye drops constantly, yet never getting any relief. I couldn’t wear my contacts anymore and I was getting constant eye infections, which resulted in sores and scarring on the corners of my eyes. The lights at night made it very difficult to drive. I began to retreat from social events and felt discouraged.
"With upwards of four million Americans suffering from Sjögren’s, it is one of the most prevalent autoimmune disorders."
I saw an ophthalmologist who was just as perplexed as I was. He put silicone plugs in my tear ducts to try and keep what little moisture I had in my eyes. He also gave a prescription for eye drops that burned painfully.
It turned out that my internal physician was the one who finally diagnosed me. Not only did he consider my eye issues, he also asked the right questions and found I had other health issues, which at first glance may have seemed unrelated. Besides dry eyes, I was also experiencing extreme fatigue, major joint and muscle pain, stomach issues, brain fog, and chronic upper respiratory infections.
He ran some tests and told me I had Sjögren’s syndrome. I was grateful to finally have a diagnosis so I could move forward. He referred me to a rheumatologist. After dealing with these issues for quite a long time using conventional medicine, I thought it was time I look into a holistic approach. I didn’t want to add anymore medications to the long list I was already taking. I wanted to fix the issue, not mask the symptoms
WHAT IS SJÖGREN’S SYNDROME?
Sjögren’s syndrome is a chronic autoimmune disease in which people’s white blood cells attack their moisture-producing glands. Scientists aren’t certain why some people develop Sjögren’s syndrome. Certain genes put people at higher risk of developing the disorder, but it appears that a triggering mechanism—such as infection caused by a particular virus or strain of bacteria— is a Sjögren dysfunction of other organs such as the kidneys, gastrointestinal system, blood vessels, lungs, liver, pancreas, and the central nervous system.
Many Sjögren’s sufferers may also have extreme fatigue and joint pain and have a higher risk of developing lymphoma. Some are so extreme they are on disability, unable to work or live a normal life.
"On average, it takes over six years to receive a diagnosis of Sjögren’s, which is why awareness is key."
With upwards of four million Americans suffering from Sjögren’s, it is one of the most prevalent autoimmune disorders. Nine out of 10 patients are women. The average age of diagnosis is late 40s, although it can occur in all age groups in both sexes. About half of the time Sjögren’s occurs alone, and the other half it is accompanied with another autoimmune connective tissue disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or scleroderma. When Sjögren’s occurs alone, it is referred to as "primary sjögren’s." When it occurs with another connective tissue disease, it is referred to as "Secondary Sjögren’s."
All instances of Sjögren’s are systemic, affecting the entire body. Symptoms may remain steady, worsen, or go into remission. While some people experience mild discomfort, others suffer debilitating symptoms that greatly impair their functioning. Some common complications of Sjögren’s include dental cavities, yeast infections, and visual impairment, i n c l u d i n g cornea damage.
Since symptoms of Sjögren’s mimic other conditions, Sjögren’s can often be overlooked or misdiagnosed. On average, it takes over six years to receive a diagnosis of Sjögren’s, which is why awareness is key. There is no cure for Sjögren’s. However, it can be managed. It’s important to monitor the antibodies and inflammation markers, and address symptoms.
DIET PLAYS A ROLE
Through my own research, I found that I needed to change my diet to help treat my symptoms of Sjögren’s. Studies support the damage gluten can have on autoimmune disorders. So, I knew I needed to eliminate gluten. I also know that inflammation is a component of Sjögren’s, so my treatment focused on avoiding pro-inflammatory foods and eating a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods.
I started eating more colorful, whole, raw fruits and vegetables, healthy fats such as avocados, extra virgin olive oil, and raw nuts and seeds. Common food allergies in addition to gluten such as cow’s milk were also necessary for me to eliminate.
I increased my use of garlic, ginger, and turmeric, as they all have anti-inflammatory properties. I also needed to clean up my gastrointestinal tract and reinforce good bacteria in my gut. I did that by taking a good probiotic and brought prebiotic foods into my diet along with fermented foods like kimchi. Since doing all of this, I no longer have any symptoms of Sjögren’s syndrome. I consider myself one of the lucky ones who took control of my health and was able to get off all pharmaceuticals.
- Eat soft, moist foods if you have trouble swallowing, and eat smaller more frequent meals.
- Avoid salty, acidic, or spicy foods, and avoid carbonated drinks that may be painful or interfere with digestion.
- Avoid mouthwashes and rinses that contain alcohol or witch hazel.
- Apply vitamin E oil to dry or sore parts of the mouth for long-lasting relief.
- Try using a probiotic with strains that are specifically beneficial to oral health.
- Use sterile eyelid cleansers to help with blepharitis, a common condition that causes chronic inflammation of the eyelids.
- If you wear makeup, make sure it’s nontoxic and nondrying to your eyes.
- Take short, warm showers. Hot water removes skin oils.
- After bathing, use natural oils such as coconut, sesame or apricot on damp skin.
- Always use hypoallergenic products.
- Use sunscreen, sunglasses, ultraviolet light-protective clothing, hats, and nonfluorescent lighting. UV radiation from the sun and other light sources can cause skin rashes, flare ups and sensitivity.
- Because you are limiting your sun exposure, make sure you are taking enough vitamin D3 and antioxidants to support your immune system.
- Know your limits and pace yourself. It’s OK to rest, but it’s also important to have movement.
- Although Sjögren’s can cause fatigue, there can be other related causes such as adrenal fatigue, hypothyroid disease and depression. Work with an integrative practitioner to help.
- Brain fog is a major complaint, however, brain fog can also be a symptom of leaky gut, food intolerance or side effects of drugs, so make sure you are working with an integrative practitioner.
- Reduce caffeine and alcohol to help with "brain fog" and sleep problems.