The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Senior Outlook

April 7, 2010

Dr. Debra Buckler: Finding relief for dry eyes and dry mouth

As people age, it is not uncommon for them to develop a sensation of dryness in their eyes, sometimes accompanied by dryness of the mouth. Severity can range from a minor annoyance to a threat to vision and the ability to swallow. This dryness can have many causes, but most commonly relates to a condition known as Sjögren’s syndrome. This article will review some of the common causes of dry eyes and mouth and look at available treatments.

Let’s begin with Sjögren’s syndrome, a condition in which the body’s own immune system attacks the glands in the eye and mouth that produce tears and saliva respectively. While this disease, in its more aggressive form, can attack other organs of the body and threaten life, it most commonly produces dry eyes and a dry mouth. Formal diagnosis of this condition is done with blood tests, biopsies of the salivary glands of the mouth, and tests for tear production in the eyes.

Other causes of dry eyes include decreased levels of vitamin A, chronic eye inflammation associated with a skin condition known as rosacea, and impaired blinking due to neurologic diseases affecting the muscles of the eyelids. Dry eyes can also occur with excessive eye strain from overuse of computers, lack of adequate rest, or need for appropriate eyeglasses.

In addition to Sjögren’s syndrome, dry mouth can occur as a side effect of many commonly used drugs such as antihistamines, some antidepressant medications, some heart and blood pressure medications, and some antiseizure drugs. Diseases of the salivary glands and chronic infections, such as HIV and hepatitis C, can also cause dry mouth.

While treatment of Sjögren’s syndrome in its more severe forms might require some specialized medications usually ordered by a rheumatologist, treatment of dry eyes and dry mouth usually begins with over-the-counter preparations. Treatment of severe dry eyes may require input from an ophthalmologist, or eye doctor, as well.

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Senior Outlook