Dry eyes may be associated with other medical problems

Dry eye disease is seen in millions of people, commonly starting in middle age and above. It is one of the most common reasons for visits to an eye care professional’s office. Symptoms consist of irritation, red eyes, itching, pain, and the need to blink frequently to relieve symptoms and improve vision. These symptoms often seem worse in the early morning ours upon awakening as well as later, often after a day’s work.

There are many causes for dry eyes starting with inflammation of the lid margins that affects the outer, oily layer of your tears and is responsible for preventing premature evaporation of the tear layer.

When the aqueous layer of the tears, which is formed by the lacrimal glands and other accessory glands is affected, other medical conditions may be present. These conditions are associated with Sjogren’s syndrome, a common cause of dry eyes. In fact as many as 4 million people in the USA may suffer from Sjogren’s syndrome and up to 3 million of these people go undiagnosed. Sjogren’s syndrome is one of the most commonly found autoimmune diseases along with rheumatoid arthritis and lupus Erythematosus. It may occur alone or in association with these diseases. 90% of affected individuals are women.

Sjogren’s affects the lubricating glands of the body and should be suspected either by family history or when other parts of the body are affected such as a dry mouth. Since it is an autoimmune disease the joints can be affected resulting in arthritis. Less commonly it can affect other areas of the eye resulting in corneal infections and melts as well as inflammations of all other areas of the eye including the retina and optic nerve. It can also result in depression, muscle pain, fatigue, lung problems, skin rashes, neurologic problems such as numbness and even affect your gums. Even more seriously Sjogren’s, up to 5% of people with Sjogren’s may have lymphoma.

For these reasons early diagnosis is important. At North Shore Eye Care, a branch of Sight MD, we can now offer early diagnostic testing of this disease with a newly developed blood test. Early detection can prevent future serious medical problems. The eye problems associated with this disease can be treated by your Ophthalmologist. Other associated medical problems are treated with immunosuppressive drugs usually prescribed by a Rheumatologist.

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