When Venus Williams withdrew from tennis last September, she gave the reason as a debilitating immune disorder called "Sjogren's Syndrome". Pronounced "Showgrens", it is named for the Swedish Ophthalmologist who discovered it.
There is no cure as yet, but research is ongoing. This little known but strangely prevalent disorder is caused by the failure of interleukin 1 to bind to it's receptors. If you have rheumatoid arthritis, lupus erythematosis or another rheumatic immune disorder, you may have Sjogren's as a secondary disorder, although it can occur alone. One to four million people in our country alone are thought to suffer from Sjogren's Syndrome. If you have ever agonized from the sandy, stinging misery of a dry eye, you know what pain can be.
Nine times as many women as men are affected by Sjogren's and the average onset takes place in your forties. Symptoms include extremely dry mouth, painful dry eye and severely dry skin as well as difficulty swallowing.
Advanced cases can lead to exhaustion, joint pain and kidney failure. In addition, Sjogren's sufferers also develop Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma at a higher rate than the general population and those with other immune disorders. People who have this disorder can have trouble swallowing food, as they have extreme dryness of the mouth. They find they must drink liquids to aid in swallowing, which can then lead to digestive problems. This makes it all the more important to chew your food to the consistency of baby food. If you need a swig of water to help you do this, feel free, you don't want to choke, but no large gulps.
Diagnosis can onsist of the Schirmer's test to measure the production of tears, a slit lamp exam of the surface of the eye and tissue biopsy of the lip or mouth.
As Naturopath, I prefer the most non- invasive of the tests, saliva tests and ultrasound examination of the salivary glands. Lubricating eye drops and saliva replacements are typically used, and I advise my patients with dry eye to use a gel or lubricant in the eyes at bed time. Don't be shy about using a good amount, the point is to keep the surface of the eye as moist as possible.
Cyclosporin drops are also prescribed to stimulate tear production. If your dry eye is not responding to topical treatments, a tiny plug can be inserted into the upper or lower tear drainage canals. This keeps the eyes wet with natural tears and keeps the surface of the eye wet. It's painless and the plugs dissolve in a short time so you can decide if this helps or not. Using a lubricating mouthwash like Biotene, as well as the companion toothpaste, can help to prevent the decaying of your teeth and deterioration of your gums.
Sometimes sufferers are unaware of the damage a lack of saliva can do to teeth and seek help when they are beyond saving. Of course avoiding sugary drinks and excessive alcohol is essential to a healthy mouth as well. Remember, alcohol is very dehydrating.
As for the largest organ in your body, your skin, use a good natural moisturizer and stay away from long, hot baths. Showering and then mosturizing while you are still a little wet keeps the skin from drying out. Taking colostrum may be beneficial. As I have said before it is an immune modulator and has no known side effects. Drinking water and keeping hydrated is also very important.
I would advise a trip to the opthamologist and to the dentist for further counsel on Sjogren's. If you are an arthritis patient, discuss this with your rheumatolgist.
Tips on handling your Sjogren's Syndrome can be found at the Sjogren's Syndrome Foundation website.
Dr. Kleine is always available for appointments. Call us at 631. 472 .8139 or e-mail Drfootsi@myway.com