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Bothered by Dry Eyes and Dry Mouth? There's More Than Meets the Eye - It May Be Sjogren's Syndrome

Updated on December 13, 2013

Does this sound like your story?

I was in the middle of a medical mystery and it was driving me crazy.

When asked if I had dry eyes or dry mouth I would answer, "I don't think so."

It just felt like someone had kicked half of Pensacola Beach into my eyes and I constantly had a beverage in my hand. And, my well maintained teeth seemed to be on an uprising of their own.

So, what was wrong? More than I could have dreamed possible.

If this sounds vaguely like your story I'm going to share research, information and products that will help make you life a little easier and identify the mystery aliment.

What you need to know about Sjogren's Syndrome

Of course, I had a lot more symptoms and issues than the dry eyes and mouth. There were the gastrointestinal problems, debilitating fatigue, joint problems and then, at the age of 28 I had my first episode of non-smoking lung cancer. Yes, you heard that correctly. I had never touched a cigarette, lived with a smoker or had any of the other high risk factors.

I began what I call the hamster wheel of doctor visits. Maybe you know the feeling. You go in hopeful, enumerate symptom after symptom and leave with nothing or maybe the feeling you're being treated as a neurotic woman.

That is until I found my current doctor. Only then did I receive a diagnosis - and it didn't involve "you're partly crazy". I had Sjogren's Syndrome.

So, what is Sjogren's Syndrome? Sjoren's (SS) is a systemic, chronic autoimmune disorder. When a person has SS their white blood cells attack particular areas of their body, read that area as foreign or dangerous and set to work trying to destroy it or rid the body of it. In very layman terms, the body is killing itself.

The hallmark of SS is the dry eyes and dry mouth. But, it doesn't stop there. There is not an area of the body SS can't affect, including, but not limited to internal organs. The Sjogren's Syndrome foundation has a wonderful, informative chart that pinpoints exactly where SS will strike.

There are about 4 million people with SS and about 9 out of 10 of those people are women.

Remember that grainy feeling in my eyes? It was dry eyes - or at least one way dry eyes can manifest. And, that is where the point of discovery began.

The physician best able to help you will be a rheumatologist. This type of doctor specializes in rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases and disorders.

You may be asked some screening questions to help determine you symptoms. The questions may cover:

  • Have you had dry eyes in the last three months?
  • Have your eyes felt gritty or like sand is in them?
  • Do you use a lot of eye drops?
  • Are you fatigued? Do your joints ache?
  • Have you had a dry mouth within the last three months?
  • Do you need liquids to help you swallow? Do you have a difficult time swallowing?
  • And, do you keep a beverage nearby most of the time?

Next be prepared for some tests. Typically Sjogren's is diagnosed through blood work that may show certain antibodies common to Sjogren's in your blood. The doctor may also looking for signs of inflammation in your blood work.

You may also visit an ophthalmologist who will also be able to examine your eyes and detect changes brought on by Sjogren's.

The Slit Lamp test is an excellent diagnostic tool used by the ophthalmologist. During the exam drops may be added to you eyes prior to the test being administered, but with the lamp, the doctor will be able to see changes in your eyes, particularly in the tear film that covers the surface of your eye.

Are you ready for something that may seem like a paradox? Well, if you have excessively dry eyes, they may tear up and water. This is one reason why some people disregard the dry eye symptom.

But, the tear film covering your eye is made up of three components: oils (lipids), water and mucous. If part of that film is missing or damaged then holes will begin to appear in the tear film on the surface of the eye. This will cause the eye to over compensate and become watery. But, it will only be the watery part of the tear and without the other two components, your eyes will not receive relief and the surface will not be covered.

You can stave off discomfort by using over the counter artificial tears and even ointments. There are even prescription eye drops that will help. One in particular is called Restasis.



Symptoms Of Sjogren's Syndrome and Areas Affected

Area Affected
Symptom
Neurological Problems
Concentration and memory problems; brain fog
Ophthalmological
Dry eyes; Corneal ulcerations; infections
Oral and Dental
Sore or Cracked Tongue; Dry Mouth; Mouth sores; Dental Decay; Restorative work will also decay; Difficulty chewing; Sores in the angles of the mouth; Trouble with speech; Difficuly with dentures; Affected taste buds
Gastrointestinal
Difficulty swallowing; Heartburn; Acid Reflux; Esophagitis; Upset Stomach; Gastroparesis; Autoimmune pancreatitis
Limbs, fingers and toes
Peripheral neuropathy; Raynaud's Syndrome; Numbness and Tingling in fingers and toes
Miscellaneous
Fatigue; Dry skin; vasculitis; Dry nose; Recurrent sinusitis; Nose bleeds; Vaginal dryness; Painful intercourse
Respiratory
Recurrent bronchitis; Pneumonia; Interstitial lung disease
Joints and Muscle
Arthritis; Joint pain; Muscle pain
Liver
Abnormal liver function tests; chronic active autoimmun hepatitis; Primary biliary cirrhosis
These are some of the hallmark symptoms of Sjogren's Syndrome, but not necessarily all of the symptoms.

Those Pearly Whites

Your mouth will be a battleground if you are a SS patient. That dry, cottony feeling in your mouth is more than an uncomfortable feeling - it's also a destructive force.

Saliva is essential to good oral health. In other words, it's good for your teeth. Lack of saliva is destructive and will lead to cavities. I was handed a very startling revelation one day when my dentist told me Sjogren's even decays restorative work! Yes, Sjorgren's can cause cavities in those lovely new pearly white crowns.

The battle for your teeth is fought with diligence - proper brushing, flossing and if you can tolerate sugar-free products use them (some people are unable to tolerate sugar substitutes). There are products that will help restore moisture in your mouth. Biotene has a whole line of over the counter products just for dry mouth. Also, your doctor may prescribe a medication for the same purpose. Salagen is one I took for many years. And, drink plenty of water!

The SOS of SS

It isn't hopeless if you receive a diagnosis of Sjogren's Syndrome. As a matter of fact, I was glad to finally have a name to the medical mystery that had plagued me for so long. It was the beginning of my being able to address my health issues the proper way - and it can help you that way, too.

Search out support groups in your area. Contact the Sjogren's Syndrome Foundation. Since my diagnosis in the early 1990s, the organization has worked tirelessly for awareness, research and education. I have found their help invaluable. Your doctor will be able to help guide you through the different stages and issues of SS - from the dryness to the fatigue and aching joints.

Even though is may not be as well known as some of its rheumatic "cousins", we are hearing about Sjogren's more and more and there are advancements being made in the treatment of the illness. It is not the "rare" oddity it once was - and SOS for SS is becoming more and more available.

Sjogren's: A Place to Begin: Part 1

Related Reading

GenTeal has a range of some of the best eye products for dry eyes

© 2013 Beverly Hicks Burch

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