DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Will you explain Sjogren’s syndrome? I have been told I have it. I had a biopsy and blood work, and the results confirmed the diagnosis. I can’t find a doctor to help me. – M.C.

ANSWER:
Dry eyes and dry mouth are the evil twins of Sjogren’s (SHOW-grins) syndrome, which is brought on by an immune attack on the salivary and tear glands. Lymphocytes – one kind of white blood cells and an integral part of the immune system – march into salivary and tear glands and disrupt the production of tears and saliva. The result is dry, gritty, burning and possibly itchy eyes with a mouth so dry that swallowing and talking become most difficult. A dry mouth also promotes tooth decay.

Many Sjogren’s patients also suffer muscle and joint pain, have swollen lymph nodes and can have hands and fingers that are extremely sensitive to exposure to the cold. Some have background illnesses like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus or scleroderma (skin hardening).

Your biopsy was a biopsy of one of the small salivary glands, and it must have shown the lymphocyte invasion. The lab tests demonstrated abnormal antibodies, a product of an errant immune system

Sjogren’s patients should carry with them a plastic, water-filled squeeze bottle and make use of it frequently. Artificial salivas can keep the mouth moist. Examples are Numoisyn Liquid, Biotene moisturizer, Salivart and a product called OraMoist. There are many others. Evoxac and pilocarpine are two oral medicines that promote saliva production. Sugar-free gum also stimulates saliva flow.

Artificial tears (ones without preservatives) keep eyes from drying. Restasis eyedrops have a medicine that jump-starts tear making. An eye doctor can plug the tear ducts to keep tears on the eyes.

You live in a city blessed with one of this country’s best medical schools. Call the rheumatology department, and they’ll find you a doctor who’s well-versed in Sjogren’s syndrome.

Above all, contact the Sjogren’s Syndrome Foundation at 800-475-6473, or visit it on the Internet at www.sjogrens.org. The foundation will keep you abreast of new developments and provide you with information on this illness.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am an 18-year-old female, and I eat everything with salt. I mean everything. I know this is bad and that I should cut down on salt, but I don’t think I will because it hasn’t caused any ill effects yet. Is there anything I can do to counteract my sodium intake? – S.L.

ANSWER:
You can do what people with high blood pressure do – retrain your sense of taste. Many people love salty foods. Not only should you take the saltshaker off the table and out of the kitchen, you should carefully read labels to see a food’s sodium content. In a matter of weeks, you will lose your salt craving, and food you used to love will taste far too salty. Trust me. It’s true.

You can perk up food with other things – pepper, spices, vinegar.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have had my flu shot. A friend told me that there is mercury in the flu shot. Is that true? – H.J.

ANSWER:
I know that friend. He or she always pops up with information that makes people believe they are on the brink of death.

Thimerosal, a mercury compound, is used in the early stages of the preparation of two flu vaccines but not all the flu vaccines. Most of the mercury is removed during subsequent steps in the purification process, so only trace amounts are left in the final product. One vaccine contains less than one-millionth of a gram of mercury, and the other has around 25 millionths of a gram. Those amounts are nearly undetectable, smaller than a speck of dust.

I have taken the shot. I have no fear of any of the vaccines, including the ones with traces of thimerosal.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from www.rbmamall.com.


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