The Eyes and Mouth

Everyone knows the dry, gritty feeling in their eyes that sometimes comes with allergy season, a smoky bar, or contact lenses that are overdue for replacement. And you probably know the feeling of dryness in your mouth that comes from a lack of water. But if you have fibromyalgia, dryness of the eyes and mouth may occur for no apparent reason.

If this dryness of the eyes and mouth becomes a major problem, it is known as sicca syndrome. It's not uncommon for people who have fibromyalgia to lose moisture in their mucous membranes. In the mouth, the dryness may be compounded by a reduction of saliva produced by the salivary glands. In most cases, the eyes are more vulnerable than the mouth.

Although uncomfortable, dry eyes — which may also burn, sting, or appear red — are often treatable with over-the-counter lubricating drops or artificial tears. According to Devin Starlanyl in her book, Fibromyalgia and Chronic Myofascial Pain, using drops that can be stored in the refrigerator can provide added relief, since the cold naturally helps constrict swollen blood vessels in the eye. To treat dry mouth, talk to your physician. You might also try sipping water regularly, sucking on a sugar-free hard candy, or chewing sugar-free gum.

Vision Problems

In some people, fibromyalgia can take a toll on eyesight, especially if you have headaches. You may notice that you have difficulty focusing on objects that are close up. At night, sensitivity to light might make it hard for you to drive in the face of oncoming traffic.

If you have vision problems, talk to your doctor. You may also need to see an ophthalmologist or optometrist, eye-care specialists who can help correct poor vision. It can help to wear polarized sunglasses, which can reduce glare.

Jaw and Dental Problems

In the middle of the night, when you think you've escaped your stressors with some much-needed zzzzs, your teeth may become the unwitting victim of lingering stress. As a result, you may grind, gnash, and clench your teeth. The result of all this nighttime grinding — also called bruxism — can be temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMJ. TMJ affects the joint that connects the upper jaw to the lower jaw, which you have on both sides of your face. It also affects the ligaments and muscles surrounding the joint.

TMJ is common in people who have fibromyalgia, especially women. But it can also occur with aging, injury, and even excessive gum chewing. People who have TMJ typically experience stiffness, headaches, and ear pain. They may hear grinding and clicking noises in their jaw, and the jaws may even lock. Some people with TMJ develop dental problems, too, as the grinding of teeth slowly erodes the enamel.

In people who have fibromyalgia, TMJ is often related to stress. That's why treatment usually involves relaxation exercises, facial massage, and the application of hot, moist packs to the jaw at bedtime. You may also consider talking to an occupational therapist, who can suggest new ways of chewing and eating that can ease your jaw pain. Myofascial therapy is often helpful, too. If TMJ becomes severe, surgery may be necessary.

Fact

A mouth guard is often the best way to protect your teeth from the damage of grinding. These are available through your dentist. Some people may find that the mouth guards sold in sporting good stores do the trick — and much less expensively, too.

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