Sjögren's: Caring for Yourself at Home
Sjögren's syndrome (say "SHOH-grins") causes your body's defense, or immune, system to attack the glands that make moisture. The condition affects your tear and saliva glands and sometimes other parts of your body. Your eyes and mouth get very dry. Sjögren's also may cause you to be very tired and to have pain in your joints. A small number of people may have problems with their lungs, kidneys, and nerves.
Even though there is no cure for Sjögren's, you can treat the symptoms. You can use artificial tears to keep your eyes moist. Saliva substitutes, water, or prescription medicines can help keep your mouth and throat moist.
How can you care for yourself at home?
For your eyes
- Use artificial tears during the day. If one brand doesn't work, try another. Try to use preservative-free drops. They may be easier on your eyes.
- Avoid medicines that are known to cause dry eyes. These include antihistamines, diuretics, and some antidepressants. Talk with your doctor if you take any of these medicines. Sometimes the benefits of a medicine outweigh the risks.
- Use a lubricant at night. It is thicker and lasts longer than artificial tears, so you have less burning, dryness, and itching when you wake up in the morning. The ointment may blur your vision for a short time, so use it before going to bed.
- Wear wraparound sunglasses to protect your eyes from wind and dust.
- Avoid smoke. It irritates your eyes.
- Keep makeup away from your eyes. Or you may want to avoid eye makeup.
For your mouth
- Drink fluids during the day to keep your mouth moist. Try drinking small sips of water and rinsing your mouth a lot.
- Use mouthwash or spray to keep your mouth wet.
- Brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste two times a day and after meals, and floss your teeth every day.
- Visit the dentist two times a year, or more if needed, to prevent and treat tooth decay.
- Use sugar-free gum or candies such as lemon drops. They increase saliva. (Sugar can increase your risk for cavities and yeast infections.)
- Avoid over-the-counter medicines that can cause dryness. These include antihistamines, such as Benadryl or Chlor-Trimeton.
For other parts of your body
- Take anti-inflammatory medicines if you have joint pain and swelling. These include ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve). Read and follow all instructions on the label.
- Use moisturizing skin creams or ointments during the day.
- Use only moisturizing soaps while bathing. After a bath, apply skin creams or ointments.
- Always wear sunscreen on exposed skin. Make sure to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. Use it every day, even when it is cloudy.
- Use a vaporizer or humidifier to add moisture to your bedroom. Follow the directions for cleaning the machine.
- Use saline (saltwater) nasal washes to help keep your nasal passages open and wash out mucus and allergens. You can buy saline nose sprays at a grocery store or drugstore. Follow the instructions on the package. Or you can make your own at home. Add 1 teaspoon of non-iodized salt and 1 teaspoon of baking soda to 2 cups of distilled or boiled and cooled water. Fill a squeeze bottle or neti pot with the nasal wash. Then put the tip into your nostril, and lean over the sink. With your mouth open, gently squirt the liquid. Repeat on the other side.
- Use lubricants if you have vaginal dryness.
- Take an over-the-counter antacid or acid reducer, such as Pepcid AC (famotidine) or Tagamet (cimetidine), when needed to reduce heartburn. Be careful when you take over-the-counter antacid medicines. Many of these medicines have aspirin in them. Read the label to make sure that you are not taking more than the recommended dose. Too much aspirin can be harmful.