Sjogren’s Quickie: Dry Eyes Q&A

Writing a 500 word blog post each day is perhaps a bit much for me…more on Sjogren’s fatigue another day when I am not so – you guessed it – tired. So, in between longer posts I will answer questions, or post a mini-blog.

I promised to answer the questions I was asked a couple of days ago regarding Sjogren’s and my eyes, so here you go:

Does it come on with age?

I am not sure if the person meant Sjogren’s in general or the dry eye issue specifically. Overwhelmingly Sjogren’s affects women, less than 10% of those afflicted are male. And 2/3rds of Sjogren’s patients are over the age of 60 at diagnosis. It used to take over ten years for diagnosis on average (that has been brought to below five years now), so average age at diagnosis may not tell the entire story, if it took someone more than ten years to get the diagnosis. Though the majority of patients are older women, Sjogren’s can affect anyone of any age, including young children. I believe I had Sjogren’s already as a teenager, yet I was not diagnosed until the age of forty.

As far as the eyes specifically, each patient is unique in their constellation of symptoms and the onset of each, but typically dry eye is extremely common. In fact, in a recent study in the USA 92% of Sjogren’s patients had dry eye as a symptom, the highest incidence of any of the symptoms – tied with dry mouth. It is considered one of what they refer to as “hallmark symptoms” of Sjogren’s, because it is the most common.

Are the eye drops, gels, ointments, etc covered by your health plan?

We have two different health plans (which we pay for ourselves since my husband is self-employed) and neither cover any of my eye drops or ointment, not even those prescribed by optometrist / ophthalmologist. The lack of coverage for the over-the-counter products used by Sjogren’s patients is a major complaint. It is similar to diabetics having to pay for blood glucose testing strips; they are “essential” yet not covered by health insurance (at least not in my locale).

Does it affect daily vision?

Yes, it can and it does simply by reason of a dry eye being an irritated eye. If you have ever had light dust blow in your eye while outside, that is similar to the feeling of a very dry eye, hence the importance of eye drops, gels, ointments, etc. Some patients even wear special goggles at night, or in the house during daytime, in an attempt to preserve any moisture in their eyes.

If you prep your eyes for the night before you go to sleep, what happens if you wake up to use bathroom or you need to get up during night?

I just do same routine as in morning – gentle rub of lid to protect cornea- go to bathroom – put more drops / ointment in after. I know my way to bathroom in bedroom well enough in dark, and fortunately I don’t often wake up to use bathroom after I am asleep. When my eyes are “gooped up” I can still sort of see, somewhat like through fogged up ski goggles. My vision is very blurry, but I’m able to make it to bathroom as I have no “hazards” on route. And the goop doesn’t last entire night, which sounds like a good thing but actually it is not because sometimes my eyes get so dry during the night I actually wake up because I can feel the lid sticking to cornea, pulling on it.

Honestly, at this time my eye regime is quite simple compared to that of many Sjogren’s patients. Other types of “remedies” include: artificial tear inserts, a prescription medication – Restasis, tear duct (punctual) plugs, moisture shields, etc. There is also something called “serum tears” which is not yet mainstream, being produced only in select laboratories. Serum tears are produced from the patient’s own blood, with the red blood cells and clotting factors removed, then bottled. If you would like to learn more about Sjogren’s and dry eye here is a link below to get you started:

Dry Eye Info from the Sjogren’s Syndrome Foundation

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