Sunday, 29 June 2014

Taking control Part 5 - Dr Cindy Marek: Oral Health

Dr. Cindy Marek is a Dental Pharmacist at the University of Iowa in the Department of Oral Pathology, Radiology and Medicine. Her presentation was titled "Strategies for Oral Health and Comfort in Sjogren's Syndrome"

Dr Marek at the round table discussion

The practical advice she is able to give because of her experience as a clinical pharmacist specializing in dental pharmacotherapy can immediately be put to use. She explained to us how modification of lifestyle, medication administration and careful selection of over-the-counter products may lessen dry mouth symptoms and improve oral health and comfort.

She talked about how easy it is to overuse lip balm. She suggested that if it really worked well it would be impossible to sell as much - this design flaw is deliberate. The best product to use for dry lips is one that contains HPA modified lanolin. One product you can use is Lansinoh. It is sold as a product for use by nursing mothers so can be found at many drug stores as an over the counter purchase. 

Don't hang your lips out to dry

It is also a good idea to protect your lips in cold weather by using a scarf and also to make sure there is enough moisture in the air by using a cool mist humidifier. You need a sunscreen in your lip balm because you need to protect the thin and sensitive outer layer. It's a good idea to stock up in summer since it is a seasonal product.

There are over 500 medications that can affect oral dryness (xerogenic agents). These include antihistamines, antihypertensives, opiods, muscle relaxants and psychotropics such as antidepressants and antipsychotics. For the antihistamines she pointed out that products containing diphenhydramine (like Benedryl) are more drying than those which contain loratidine (like Claritin)

If you need to take a medication that has a drying effect sometimes taking a smaller dose, or perhaps a lower dose more frequently will help. Many healthcare providers are not aware of the incidence of dryness with certain drugs. Pharmacists are good resources for this information but of course you should consult your doctor about changes in medication dosages.

All stimulants are drying - this includes caffeine. Most of us are unaware of the amount of caffeine we consume. If you decide not to drink any more beverages with caffeine go slowly - caffeine withdrawal will occur if you stop suddenly.  Even gradually reducing the amount by 10% a week can help you.

I was surprised to learn that only added caffeine must be listed on labels in the US. If a product naturally contains caffeine the amount is not listed. Look for guarana, yerba mate, chocolate or coffee flavoured foods - they will contain caffeine. Even energy gummy bears have caffeine. 


Other things to avoid are alcohol-containing mouth rinses, acidic foods and beverages and toothpaste that contains SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate) which can cause tenderness and ulceration in the mouth.

According to a 2011 Cochrane review there is no strong evidence that any topical therapy is effective for relieving dry mouth. Oxygenated glycerol triester (OGT) spray is more effective than an electrolyte spray. 

In some studies chewing gum was the preferred product of patients. Chewing does stimulate saliva flow: the best gum choice is sugar free and contains xylitol or a xylitol/sorbitol mix. Cinnamon and strong flavours should be avoided

Another suggestion was MI Paste, especially at night, to give a good slick feeling in the mouth. 

Dr Marek also said "The burn is bad." If what you are eating or chewing gives you a burning sensation in your mouth, it's best that you avoid it.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Online vs In-Person Patient Support Services #HCSMCA Tweetchat

Natrice Rese (@natricer) and I (@anetto) have had various types of experiences with patient support services, both large and small. Here is an outline of the topics we will explore this week on #hcsmca, Wednesday, June 18 at 1:00pm during the weekly tweetchat.

There are patient organizations for almost every illness. Their purposes include promoting awareness and providing information about the disease. Many also provide support services and help patients and families connect with other people like them. Many patient organizations also advocate for improvements such as better treatment, access to medications and more research funding.

There are patient-led organizations, such as The Sjogren's Society of or  and others that were founded by medical professionals, such as the Canadian Diabetes Association, the Canadian Cancer Society or The Arthritis Society as some examples.

A major benefit of this type of organization is that you can self-refer, that is, you don't need a doctor's referral to get the benefit of education and help from them. I have been a recipient of in-person services from The Arthritis SocietyMeeting others with the same issues as mine in self management courses has been valuable. The advice and help of physios and occupational therapists is also irreplaceable.

Later I discovered a self management course offered online which is based on research done at Stanford University. Many self management programs owe a debt to this research from the  80's. It is still going strong and people with chronic illness can enroll in it here Better Choices, Better Health.

In-Person Support services

One thing all of the charities have in common is a need for funding to carry on their good work. In times like this when money is scarce and the organizations have to make hard decisions how do they continue to meet the needs and demands of the patients they serve?

Increasingly patient organizations are augmenting their communication and support services with electronic solutions - eNewsletters, webinars, e-learning, video, online communities, chats and other social media platforms. In some cases, organizations have chosen to replace in-person services with online delivery. The internet offers great opportunity but there are limitations to online means of communication. Obviously, if money were no object, offering both online and in-person services would be the perfect solution.
Online support services

For rare diseases, online is often the only way to connect with others who have the same health issue, but organizations serving more common conditions may be neglecting some segments of their patient group by moving services to online only. Some patients and families with no computers or ability to use them. There are many people in this category including the poor, those with language difficulty or with low literacy. Some prefer not to use online services because of privacy concerns and/or a fear of social media.

On June 18th, #hcsmca will explore the complexities of choosing between online vs. in-person patient support services when organizations can't afford both.

  • T1: Is it ethical to opt for online only delivery of patient education and services?
  • T2a: What services are better delivered online and which in person and for whom?
  • T2b: Is online delivery of services actually cheaper?
  • T3: Share an example of quality and cost-effective online support systems for patients

Additional Reading

The impact of chronic disease self-management programs: healthcare savings through a community-based intervention.

Adaptation of the Chronic Disease Self-Management Program for Cancer Survivors: Feasibility, Acceptability, and Lessons for Implementation.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Taking Control Part 4 - Sjogren's Conference - Dr. Rookaya Mather: Dry Eye

Dr Rookaya Mather is Associate Professor of Opthalmology at the Ivey Eye Institute at the University of Western Ontario and Department of Opthalmology and a researcher specializing in Cornea and External Eye Disease in London Ontario.

She chose Sjogren's Syndrome and Tear Film Dysfunction as her topic. Dr. Mather defined dry eye as a multifactorial disease of the tears and ocular surface that results in discomfort, visual disturbance and tear film instability with potential damage to the ocular surface. It is accompanied by increased osmolarity of the tear film and inflammation of the ocular surface. This is the definition of dry eye from the International Dry Eye Workshop (DEWS)

This can be very disruptive to your life. It has an effect on your quality of life that is similar to moderate angina. It's possible for dry eye to be caused by drugs or a serious lack of Omega-3 as well as by Sjogren's Syndrome.

Nitro for angina

In Sjogren's patients with severe dry eye researchers have seen on biopsy that 50% of the glandular cells are still present. This emphasizes the importance of immune factors in inducing glandular dysfunction. 

Another contributing cause for dry eye can be Meibomian Gland Dysfunction (MGD). With Sjogren's there is a decrease in expressibility that leaves the lipid layer deficient and lets tear evaporation increase. When this happens your tears become very concentrated. This promotes inflammation. For some people warm compresses and eyelid massage help with MGD.

You may also see redness on the eyelid margin. This is a sign of Ocular Rosacea. The inflammation on the ocular surface is thought to be mediated primarily by CD4 cells.

You need tear film on your cornea at all times for protection or your corneas may break down. When you use eye drops you should avoid drops containing preservatives.  BAK is the worst one and it is also found in glaucoma drops. Autologous serum tears are the closest to natural tears.

She's got Botticelli eyes

As your eyes become more dry, ocular findings worsen. There are some types of eye wear that help reduce the flow of air over the eye that preserve the tear film.  These include wraparound glasses and cycling shields, Panoptx, plano glasses or the scleral contact lens. You need to be especially careful to moisturize at night since tear production drops then.

Dr Mather ended with more good advice. Number one was "Be proactive, not reactive." Sticking to a daily care routine is essential. When you read close your eyes after each page for a few seconds more than a blink.

This is the comprehensive strategy to manage dry eye in 5 points:
1. Tear supplementation
2. Control of inflammation
3. Reduce evaporative loss
4. Support meibomian gland function
5. Prevent disease progression

Omega-3 capsules with fish pictures

Lifestyle factors can help. She suggested 2000mg of fish oil daily, use of lubricating eye drops, lid hygiene, warm compresses, possibly punctal plugs. Also consider flaxseed oil . Another idea that was new to me involved rolling a small bottle (like a pill bottle) full of warm water over the eye for a warm massage.

You can find more information about dry eye here at Dr R. Fox's site and more info on compresses for dry eye at this site which I found through It also mentions eyelid massage.