Dry as a Desert
Many of us with RA have other challenges to contend with that are not always so overtly related to the disease. One of those is dryness. I mean dryness of every orifice, follicle and organ in our bodies! For some of us it develops into Sjogrens Syndrome but for some it simply means ongoing, miserable dryness.
Sjögren’s (pronounced SHOW-grins) syndrome is a chronic autoimmune inflammatory disease in which moisture-producing glands are damaged, significantly decreasing the quantity and quality of saliva and tears. The disease was first identified by a Swedish physician, Henrik Sjögren, in 1933. The hallmark symptoms are dry eyes, dry mouth, fatigue and joint pain but Sjögren’s may cause dysfunction of other organs. Sjögren’s is one of the most common and prevalent autoimmune disorders, striking as many as 4,000,000 Americans. Nine out of ten patients are women. About half of the time Sjögren’s occurs alone, and the other half it occurs in the presence of another connective tissue disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or scleroderma.
For me it became apparent when I could no longer wear contact lens because my eyes were so dry that even using “plugs” did nothing to produce tears. Then my dry mouth and skin joined the party and it was soon obvious what was going on. My case is not that extreme, so I can use artificial tears, lots of heavy duty moisturizers, and saliva producing hard (sugar free) candy to counter the symptoms. For many, however, it takes more intense treatments and medications but just as with RA, the best approach should be personalized to each patient’s needs and situation.
Dryness is troublesome even when it is not to the point of Sjogrens. Dry and troubled skin can be a side effect of many of the medications we are prescribed such as corticosteroids. So taking care to address it is important to avoid other complications like skin or scalp ulcers from dryness. Using moisturizing shampoo and not shampooing every day can help offset the dry scalp problem. It is so uncomfortable to have an itchy, dry scalp! Dry skin can be tough to address. If you see a dermatologist, best to ask them for a recommendation for a good cream to use. Believe it or not, each of us have unique skin characteristics, so consulting someone who follows your own special skin will yield the best results. In addition, staying away from really dry environments (like full on sun) helps too. I also found that as much as I love hot baths for my RA pain, I need to be careful not to do it too often as it really dries my skin out! So now, if I am in need of them frequently, I just do it for less time and make the water a little less hot.
Dry eyes are not only annoying but can be quite painful. We all know that feeling of sand in our eyes and it is horribly uncomfortable. I keep lubricating drops with me AT ALL TIMES. I never know for sure when it might rear its ugly head and so I keep them nearby. I have a pattern of using them first thing in the morning and right before bed every day. Then I use them in between as needed. Wearing sunglasses on windy and sunny days can really help to alleviate the extent of dryness too. Again, I would mention it to your ophthalmologist on your next visit so they can check for any possible complications and recommend the best course of treatment for you specific situation.
Dealing with dryness is tough but you can find respite and relief if you take the time to develop an action plan.