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
- Dry skin
- Inflammation of blood vessels
- Abnormal liver function
- Peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage)
- 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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About the Author
Kate Eller, health enews contributor, is director of public affairs for Advocate Health Care's south region, which includes Advocate Christ Medical Center, Advocate South Suburban Hospital and Trinity Hospital. She has more than 19 years of health care marketing and public relations experience. In her spare time, Kate enjoys being taken for walks by her shaggy dog, Abby, exploring Chicago, reading, and organizing other people's clutter (when it doubt, toss it out!).