Why dry eyes and dry mouth are not symptoms to ignore

Why dry eyes and dry mouth are not symptoms to ignore

If you have dry eyes and/or dry mouth, are frequently tired after getting a full-night’s rest, and have unexplained joint pain, let your physician know. He or she can do a simple blood test to determine if you have the autoimmune disease, Sjögren’s (pronounced “SHOW-grins”) Syndrome.

According to the Sjögren’s Syndrome Foundation, more than 4 million Americans have it, and nine out of 10 are women. It’s a systemic disease, meaning it affects the entire body.

“Sjögren’s is mild in some people and can be debilitating for others,” says Dr. Mary Ellen Moore, a family medicine physician affiliated with Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill. “Symptoms can worsen over time, get better, or remain fairly consistent.”

“I will test for Sjögren’s when a patient has or describes symptoms including dry eyes, dry mouth, trouble swallowing, unexplained Petechiae, (round, pinpoint red, brown or purple spots that appear on the skin in cluster formation as a result of bleeding into the skin), hand, feet and leg pain, and complains of fatigue and joint pain,” says Dr. Moore.

Dr. Moore advises that people discuss health symptoms with all of their doctors. This includes your dentist and eye doctor. As dry mouth and dry eyes are two of the characteristic symptoms of this syndrome, these doctors may even be the first to suggest you be tested for Sjögren’s.

“Your dentist should be familiar with the disorder and can help you prevent oral problems. He or she will recommend that you use a mouthwash with no alcohol, as alcohol can increase dryness, and discuss methods and products to stimulate saliva production. Without enough saliva, your chance for oral infections and cavities are greater,” says Dr. Moore.

“Dry eyes can lead to burning and itchiness — some sufferers describe a sandy or gritty sensation — visual fatigue, sensitivity to light, and blurred vision,” says Dr. Moore. “Patients should use an over-the-counter artificial tears product and talk to their eye doctor about other treatment options and considerations.”

“As Sjögren’s symptoms can occur with other diseases, or mimic other diseases, including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and multiple sclerosis, I also encourage those diagnosed to see a rheumatologist (a physician who specializes in musculoskeletal disease and systemic autoimmune conditions) to help manage the disease long-term,” says Dr. Moore.

According to Dr. Moore and the Sjögren’s Syndrome Foundation, the following are ways Sjögren’s can affect the body:

  • Neurological problems, including concentration/memory loss
  • Dry nose, recurrent sinusitis, and nose bleeds
  • Dry mouth, mouth sores, dental decay, difficulty with chewing, speech, and taste
  • Swollen and painful salivary glands
  • Dry eyes, corneal ulcerations, and infections
  • Fatigue
  • Dry skin
  • Inflammation of blood vessels
  • Abnormal liver function
  • Peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage)
  • Raynaud’s
  • Difficulty swallowing, heartburn, and reflux
  • Recurrent bronchitis, intestinal lung disease, and pneumonia
  • Arthritis and muscle pain
  • Upset stomach, irritable bowel, gastroparesis, pancreatitis
  • Vaginal dryness

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8 Comments

  1. Sjogrens can also affect the kidneys and kidney function.

  2. More info for Mom….

  3. Brava, Dr. Mary Ellen Moore! Thank You for taking these debilitating progressive symptoms seriously and getting your patients tested for Sjogren’s Disease! This article will really open some eyes for some people who never heard of this disease which really is common, and afflicts mostly women, and men of all ages across the country. Tennis Champion Venus Williams, Carrie Ann Inaba of Dancing with the Stars, and Mary McDonough of TV Series The Walton’s all suffer from Sjogren’s and can tell all of us that the widespread, progressive pain and random attacks on vital organs such as lungs, kidneys and liver and also musculature and connective tissues will affect daily & long-term livelihood functioning of not just STARS but everyday people. Therefore I thank you for this article and I am glad to see that Advocate Healthcare takes Sjogren’s Syndrome seriously and knows how to use cutting edge treatment options and testing to help patients with autoimmune diseases! I’ll do my part to spread the word by Tweeting this right now!
    Best Regards!!!

    • Kate Eller

      Thank you, Patricia, for your kind words and tweeting out this article. I passed your comments along to Dr. Moore.

  4. For all you guys, I am part of that “One in Ten Sjögren’s Sufferers are Men”.

    I find it disheartening how several diseases that I have are emphasize as so heavily affecting women, that several doctors I went to on my quest for a diagnosis dismissed that a man could have them.

    In addition to Sjögren’s, I have also been diagnosed with fibromyalgia. We are watching my anti-bodies and symptoms closely, hoping that Lupus is not added to the list.

    So if you are a guy and you have symptoms like those listed here and aren’t getting any answers, demand that an AntiNuclear Antibody test is run.

  5. Thank you for bringing awareness to Sjogren’s! I try to educate as many people and Dr.s as I can. As a patient with Sjogren’s I know more than many Dr.s do which can be very frustrating at times. Once again thank you.

  6. Kate Eller

    Thank you, Denise, for your comments.

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About the Author

Kate Eller
Kate Eller

Kate Eller, health enews contributor, is director of public affairs for Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center and Advocate Lutheran General Hospital. She came to Chicago and Advocate in 2014 after living in Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas and Texas. She enjoys road trips, exploring little towns, minimalism, hiking and urban hiking around Chicago.

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