Dry Eyes and Mouth
Welcome to our decision guide on persistent and long standing dryness of the eyes and/or mouth, a condition often called "SICCA syndrome." The name comes from the Latin word, "siccus" which means "dry."
Brief symptoms of eye dryness may be due to air blowing near your eyes, an environment with dry air (as with indoor heating), smoke or dust exposure. Dryness can complicate other eye conditions, such as eyelid disorders and bulging of the eyes (as may occur with an overactive thyroid). Temporary dryness of the mouth may accompany nervousness, anxiety and breathing through the mouth (as many people do when they sleep). Also many medications can make the mouth dry.
This guide will cover the most common reason for dry eyes and dry mouth. While these symptoms are more common among persons who are older, they are not inevitable; while tear production may decline with advancing age, symptoms are often not solely related to aging. In fact, plenty of elderly people have perfectly normal tear and saliva production.
Please keep in mind that this information cannot replace a face-to-face evaluation with your own health care provider. It is meant to provide helpful information while you are awaiting further evaluation, or to supplement what you may have already learned after evaluation with your doctors.
Dryness of the eyes and/or mouth is common, especially among persons as they age; however, age alone is frequently NOT the only reason and other causes are often quite treatable or reversible.
Fortunately, serious or dangerous causes of dryness of the eyes and mouth are rare.
If you have significant discomfort in the eyes, especially when you blink, you should see you eye doctor right away.
Treatment for dry eyes usually starts with simple things: a humidifier to keep the air moist, lubricating eye drops and an evaluation to determine the cause (For severely dry eyes, small, plastic plugs can be inserted near the eyelid to prevent tears from draining away as quickly and cause more moisture to remain on the eye surface.).
Treatment for dry mouth usually starts with simple things as well: searching for a cause (such as certain medications), frequent sips of water or ice, and a fluoride toothpaste and rinse to prevent cavities (which are more common in people with significantly reduced saliva).
If you have dry eyes and dry mouth, a disease called Sjogren's syndrome could be to blame; it's an autoimmune condition in which the body's immune system is thought to attack certain tissues in the body, including the glands that make tears and saliva. The next question asks about features of this disease that could make it more likely in your case.
Besides dry eyes and dry mouth, other findings are common in people with Sjogren's syndrome.
In addition to the dry eyes and dry mouth, do you have one or more of the following?
swelling in the parotid gland(s) -- these are salivary glands located on the sides of the face, just below and in front of the ears.
abnormalities on specialized tests of tear or saliva production performed by your doctor, usually an eye doctor or ear-nose-and-throat doctor. These tests include the Schirmer's test, Rose-Bengal staining, basal and stimulated salivary flow, or lip biopsy.
a positive (abnormal) ANA (anti-nuclear antibody) blood test, in the blood, especially with one type of ANA called anti-Ro.
If you aren't sure if you've had any of these checked, you can get the information from your doctor's office.