Sjögren’s Syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that causes excessive dryness, including dry eye
Aug 04, 2016
Sjögren’s Syndrome is an autoimmune disorder that causes excessive dryness throughout the body, especially the eyes and mouth. Most Sjögren’s patients are women over age 40 like Rory*, who was diagnosed a decade ago when she was working as a surgical nurse in a busy ophthalmic practice in a New Jersey shore community.1, 5
Today, the 64-year-old grandmother of two said she uses eye drops six or more times a day during flare-ups of the disease.
Rory related how the medical team that performed a hip arthroscopy after her Sjögren’s diagnosis failed to put ointment in her eyes and tape them shut during the procedure, both recommended practices for Sjögren’s patients. Afterward, she felt “like there were 10 pounds of sand in each of my eyes.
“I’ve never experienced pain like that in my eyes,” she recalled. “I’ll never forget how bad it was.”
Before she underwent a subsequent hip replacement surgery this spring, she emphasized the need to take special precautions with her eyes to the medical team. To her relief, her eyes felt fine when she awakened in the recovery room.
Partnering to Make a Difference
While Rory has health insurance to cover her treatment, most of the nearly 6,000 patients who seek care at the Community Eye Clinic in Fort Worth each year do not.
Established three years ago largely through a grant from the Alcon Foundation, the Clinic serves an indigent population that includes many homeless, according to Jennifer Deakins, OD, who serves as Director.
“Thanks to the Alcon Foundation and others, we’re able to provide top quality care for these patients,” she said.
The Clinic occupies the top floor of the First Christian Church, the city’s oldest house of worship. Interns from the colleges of optometry at the University of Houston and the University of the Incarnate Word provide care for about 60 patients a day under Jenn’s supervision.
She said the greatest barriers to treating patients diagnosed with Dry Eye and Sjögren’s is identifying the underlying cause for conditions that “wax and wane” and managing patients long-term, including the cost of care. She gives patients coupons for artificial tears that she clips from local newspapers.
The Clinic also relies on assistance from Alcon Cares, the company’s patient assistance program. Alcon Cares helps qualified individuals, clinics and hospitals across the U.S. gain access to eye care medicines at no charge. About 8,000 people benefit annually.
“Alcon Cares is invaluable because it breaks down the barriers to cost and makes long-term care possible,” Jenn said.
Seeking New Treatments
Making better care possible for all forms of Dry Eye is a key goal for Alcon. Eric Carlson, Therapeutic Unit Head, Cornea & Inflammation at Alcon, said the company is engaged in a “significant R&D effort” to develop new Dry Eye treatments, including work on new prescription drugs to help patients with Dry Eye.
“Our thinking and understanding of Dry Eye has gained ground over the years,” he noted, comparing it to the thinking about cancer around the turn of the century. Still, he admitted, given the many causes of Dry Eye, “it’s tough to develop a one-size-fits-all treatment.”
He described a Dry Eye patient in Miami whose condition is so severe that he must have blood drawn at a clinic every two weeks. Serum is extracted from his blood and returned to him in a cooler. He must put drops of the serum in his eyes every 10 to 15 minutes throughout the day in order to keep his eyes lubricated. Even with that, so sensitive are this patient’s eyes that his meeting with Eric had to take place in a darkened room.
“He’s an extreme example, but not the worst,” Eric acknowledged. “It’s imperative that we understand the patient’s journey. Patients are suffering and unless someone has Dry Eye, there’s no appreciation for it.”