An Introduction To Sjogren's Syndrome, And Why Your Alleged Allergies Might Leave You Itching For An Answer

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In 2011, tennis champion Venus Williams bowed out of the U.S. Open because of Sjogren's disease, her autoimmune disorder. The majority of tennis fans were left wondering, what exactly is Sjogren's disorder?

This condition is frequently misdiagnosed as an allergy, despite affecting millions of Americans. If your doctor is treating you for allergies, but your symptoms are not improving, you might have this little-known autoimmune disorder.

What is an Autoimmune Disorder?

If you have an autoimmune disorder, your body mistakes healthy cells and tissues as dangerous and sends its white blood cells to attack and destroy this healthy tissue. When you hear the words "autoimmune deficiency," the first conditions that you think of are probably HIV/AIDS, Lupus, Rheumatoid arthritis, and Celiac disease. There are actually about 80 autoimmune disorders, many of which you have never heard of.

What is Sjogren's Syndrome?

One of the most commonly misdiagnosed autoimmune disorders is Sjogren's syndrome. This condition was greatly misunderstood for many years, but today, about 4 million Americans have a positive diagnosis for Sjogren's syndrome. About half of these people have another autoimmune deficiency in addition to their Sjogren's syndrome.

Dry mouth and dry eyes are the two most frequently reported symptoms of Sjogren's syndrome. People who are diagnosed with Sjogren's syndrome also experience symptoms such as peripheral neuropathy, which is a numbing feeling on the hands and feet, along with digestive problems, joint pain, and fatigue.

Why is Sjogren's Syndrome So Frequently Misdiagnosed?

The number of people who actually suffer from Sjogren's syndrome is much lower than the statistics suggest. This is because this condition is so frequently misdiagnosed.

Many doctors mistake the symptoms of Sjogren's with other autoimmune disorders, like Lupus and Fibromyalgia. Sjogren's syndrome is also often mistaken for allergies. Many doctors mistakenly diagnose this disease as allergic conjunctivitis, even though the symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis include an excess of--instead of a lack of--tear production. The reason why Sjogren's is so commonly confused with allergies is because most people who are eventually diagnosed with the autoimmune disorder are also independently diagnosed with some form of allergy. Thus, if a patient is first correctly diagnosed with an allergy, it is less likely that the patient will be diagnosed with Sjogren's syndrome at a later date.

Do You Have Sjogren's Syndrome?

If your doctor previously diagnosed you with an allergy but you still exhibit symptoms akin to that of Sjogren's syndrome, such as dry eyes and mouth, overall dryness throughout your body, and digestive disruption, there is a very high chance that you have this condition. If these symptoms continue despite your allergy treatment, ask your immunology doctor to test you for this autoimmune disorder.