Scleral Contact Lenses for Sjogren’s Syndrome
What Is Sjogren’s Syndrome?
Sjogren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disease that causes extreme dryness that affects much of the body, including the eyes. In addition to dryness of the mucous membranes, Sjorgren’s syndrome can cause pain, exhaustion, nerve damage and blood cancer.
About 4 million Americans have the disease, 90% of them women. An additional 3 million may be living with the disease without knowing it, according to the Sjogren’s Syndrome Foundation. In fact, an estimated 1 in 10 patients with dry eye symptoms have Sjogren’s syndrome.
Why Sjogren’s Syndrome Causes Dry Eyes
Individuals with the syndrome have inflammation of the lacrimal glands, which causes them to produce a lower quantity of tears. Lower tear volume means that irritants that would ordinarily be washed away by tears remain on the ocular surface, leading to inflammation, irritation and, if left untreated, corneal scarring.
Many individuals with Sjogren’s syndrome also have other autoimmune diseases, such as lupus, celiac disease or rheumatoid arthritis.
Eye Symptoms Related to Sjogren’s Syndrome
In those with Sjogren’s syndrome, having dry eyes is a given.
Other common symptoms include:
- Burning eyes
- Sensitivity to light
- Blurry vision
- Eye strain and fatigue
- Blepharitis – an inflammation of the eyelids
- Discomfort while wearing regular contact lenses
How Is Sjogren’s Syndrome Diagnosed?
Because the symptoms are varied and develop gradually, it can take several years for those with Sjogren’s syndrome to be diagnosed with the disease.
However, eye doctors are often the first to suspect the condition since dry eyes are a key symptom of the disease.
After taking your medical history and providing a thorough eye exam, your eye doctor may perform the Schirmer’s test to see whether your tear glands are working properly.
During the test, the eye doctor will place special paper inside your lower eyelids while you keep your eyes closed for a few minutes. Once the paper is removed, the doctor will measure the amount of liquid on the paper.
Another test, which uses dye to make your tears more visible, measures how quickly your tears evaporate.
How Scleral Lenses Alleviate Dry Eyes
Individuals with dry eye syndrome, whether caused by Sjorgren’s syndrome or another condition, often complain that traditional contact lenses irritate their eyes. That’s because traditional contacts dry out easily and compensate by drawing moisture away from the eye.
Scleral lenses, which are gas-permeable, do the exact opposite. They form a protective dome over the cornea that conserves saline solution. The solution acts as a liquid buffer between the lens and the cornea’s surface. That, in turn, alleviates the irritation, itchiness and redness that are the hallmarks of dry eye.
Due to their larger diameter and custom fit, scleral lenses don’t move around as much as conventional lenses. This boosts visual acuity and reduces irritation.
If your eyes feel parched and gritty, contact for a comprehensive eye exam to determine whether you have dry eye syndrome and to discuss whether your symptoms could be due to Sjorgren’s syndrome.
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