Dry Eyes or Mouth? It Could Be Signs of Sjogren’s Syndrome

An estimated four million Americans have Sjogren’s (SHOW-grins) syndrome, a chronic autoimmune disorder that can affect the entire body, especially the eyes and mouth.

“Most often, this disease causes one’s immune system to attack the moisture-producing glands of the body, especially the eyes and mouth, resulting in decreased tears and saliva. It can also affect the joints, lungs, kidneys, blood vessels, digestive organs, and nerves,” said Mary Abraham, MD, of Samaritan Rheumatology.

Named for Henrik Sjögren, the Swedish eye doctor who first described the condition, Sjogren’s syndrome can occur alone or in association with another autoimmune disorder, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.

Symptoms of Sjogren’s Syndrome

Symptoms vary from person to person and may include:

  • Dry eyes – burning, itching, a feeling of sand in the eyes, light sensitivity.
  • Dry mouth – chalky tongue, a feeling of cotton in the mouth, difficulty swallowing or speaking.
  • Prolonged fatigue, sometimes debilitating.
  • Joint pain, swelling and stiffness.
  • Muscle pain.
  • Persistent dry cough, hoarse voice.
  • Dryness in other parts of the body, skin rashes.
  • Numbness, tingling in hands and feet.
  • Liver and kidney problems.

“In most people, dry eyes and dry mouth are the primary features of the disease and these are manageable conditions. But in some instances, the disease attacks the body’s other organs and tissues, causing painful inflammation in the joints and more serious problems. Everyone’s experience is different,” explained Dr. Abraham.


Diagnosis of Sjogren’s syndrome is not always a clear-cut process.

“Many of the symptoms for Sjogren’s syndrome could be similar to the side effects from a medication or symptoms of other health issues, so your health care provider will want to rule out the obvious first,” noted Dr. Abraham.

“Sometimes, it can be a bit of a puzzle that requires looking at all the symptoms together and hearing a patient’s full experience to know what the problem is. The more detail a patient can share with their doctor, the better,” she said.

Confirming Sjogren’s syndrome involves eye and saliva tests, blood tests and possible biopsies.

“A health care provider would be looking to see if the tear and salivary glands are functioning normally,” Dr. Abraham explained. “Blood tests can, among other things, help identify signs of an autoimmune disorder.”


Currently, treatment for Sjogren’s syndrome focuses on making symptoms manageable.

“Many people can manage mild symptoms with over-the-counter eye drops for dry eyes, ibuprofen for inflammation, and sipping water for dry mouth,” noted Dr. Abraham. “For more severe symptoms, your provider will suggest prescription medications that can work to address your specific condition.”

“While there are no current treatments for curing Sjogren’s syndrome, there are different medications in clinical trials that may promise some future therapy,” Dr. Abraham noted.

Potential Complications

There can be complications with Sjogren’s syndrome:

  • Dental Cavities: Because saliva protects the teeth from decay, people with dry mouth are more susceptible to cavities. Brushing teeth more frequently and regular preventive dental exams are important.
  • Yeast Infections: Yeast infections, including oral thrush, are common with Sjogren’s syndrome.
  • Vision Issues: Reduced tears in the eye can cause blurred vision, increased light sensitivity and corneal damage.
  • Infections: Lung, kidneys and liver infections are the most common.
  • Lymphoma: A small percentage of people with the disease develop this blood-related cancer.

Risk Factors

Scientists do not know what causes Sjogren’s syndrome. There is a higher incidence of the disease in women and in those over age 40. Sjogren’s is more common in people who also have rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. Genetics and environmental factors can also play a role 

If you have concerns about dry eyes or dry mouth or any other health issues you are experiencing, call your primary care provider for an appointment.

Dr. Abraham sees patients at Samaritan Rheumatology. She can be reached at 541-768-5800.

Learn why it’s important to stay hydrated for optimal health.

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