When seasonal allergies are in full swing, allergy sufferers are worried about dealing with common symptoms like sneezing, itchy and watery eyes, and a stuffy nose, among others. But did you know that allergies can also cause dry mouth?
A dry mouth can be uncomfortable and lead to trouble speaking and poor oral health, increasing the risk of cavities, sore throat, and bad breath.
In cases like these, it's important to understand the root cause of your dry mouth and whether something other than allergies is causing it. Read on to learn more about how allergies can cause this uncomfortable symptom and how best to manage it.
Allergies and Dry Mouth
A dry mouth is an uncomfortable symptom of allergies. When you have this symptom, it means that your salivary glands are not producing enough saliva.
But how do allergies cause a dry mouth? Unlike other allergy symptoms, the relationship between allergies and dry mouth is quite indirect.
When exposed to allergens like pollen, dust, and mold spores, your immune system will recognize them as foreign substances and try to protect you by releasing histamine. In an attempt to rid your body of the allergen, the chemicals trigger symptoms such as watery eyes, sneezing, and increased mucus production.
These symptoms make breathing difficult through the nose, which in turn causes you to breathe through your mouth. Constantly breathing through your mouth will dry out your oral tissue and make it difficult for your salivary glands to produce enough saliva.
The medications used to treat allergy symptoms can also cause dry mouth. For example, one of the side effects of antihistamines, a common allergy medication, is a dry mouth. So, if you choose this option to curb your allergy symptoms, you may have to deal with a dry mouth.
How Do Allergies Impact Oral Health?
Your saliva has antibacterial properties that fight against the buildup of bacteria in your mouth and wash away food particles. Without enough saliva, bacteria can easily attach to your teeth and gums and cause oral health problems such as tooth decay and cavities, gum disease, and bad breath.
A dry mouth is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and fungi. Here are the most common oral health issues related to allergies:
When your immune system fights against allergens like dust and pollen, the risk of pain in the sinuses is high. These hollow spaces are filled with mucus, resulting in pain and aches in your face. One of the affected sinuses is the maxillary sinuses, one of the largest in the face and located above your mouth.
As pressure builds in the sinuses, it pushes down on your upper molars' roots. The pressure from the inflammation in the sinuses can trigger sensitivity and tooth pain, especially on the teeth on your upper back molars.
Saliva plays an important role in protecting your teeth against cavity-causing bacteria. It washes away the bacteria, food debris, and sugar, allowing the bacteria to thrive. Saliva also helps remineralization since its minerals repair the teeth' enamel surfaces, keeping them strong and resistant to cavities.
When you have a dry mouth due to allergies, your saliva's antibacterial properties won't be able to fight against the bacteria. The saliva will also be insufficient to remineralize the enamel of your teeth. This puts you at a higher risk of developing cavities.
If you're an allergy sufferer, you're more likely to have bad breath. Mouth dryness means there is no saliva to prevent bacterial buildup in the mouth, leading to bad breath. The bacteria in your mouth will feed on these particles, creating an unpleasant odor.
Allergies can also cause post-nasal drip, where excess mucus gathers and drips down the back of your throat. Bacterial activity increases in this area, leading to an infection in the throat and bad breath.
The bad breath from this type of infection is challenging because it comes from the throat, and flossing or brushing can't eliminate it. However, antibiotics can treat the infection. You can also gargle warm salt water to soothe your sore throat and minimize the foul smell.
What Else Causes Dry Mouth?
Apart from allergies, there are other causes of dry mouth. Here is an overview of the most common causes:
Besides the drugs used to address the symptoms of allergies, other medications can cause a dry mouth. Examples include those used to treat anxiety, depression, asthma, high blood pressure, and diarrhea. If you think any medications are causing dryness in your mouth, talk to your doctor about changing the dosage or switching to a different drug.
Dehydration occurs when your body loses too much fluid without replenishment. Common causes of dehydration include diarrhea, vomiting, excessive sweating, urination, or inadequate intake of fluids. If you are dehydrated, your body won't produce enough saliva, leading to a dry mouth.
As you age, your body produces less saliva because the glands that make it become less active. The dryness will be more severe if the aging person uses certain medications or suffers from medical conditions affecting salivary production.
People undergoing chemotherapy are at high risk of developing dry mouth because the drugs change the process of saliva production. The good news is that the change is temporary, and saliva production will go back to normal after treatment. Radiation treatment to the head and neck can also damage the salivary glands, decreasing saliva production.
Certain medical conditions, including diabetes, oral thrush, cystic fibrosis, Alzheimer's disease, and Sjogren's syndrome, can lead to dry mouth. Damages to the nerves in your neck or head can also interfere with the functioning of your salivary glands.
Smoking and drinking alcohol are two common lifestyle factors affecting saliva production. Stress and anxiety can also contribute to a dry mouth because they trigger more cortisol, the stress hormone. A high cortisol level in your saliva changes its composition, causing more mouth dryness.
Dry Mouth Symptoms
Dry mouth can cause a variety of unpleasant and uncomfortable symptoms, including:
- A sticky feeling in your mouth
- A decrease in salivary flow, resulting in thick or stringy saliva
- Bad breath
- Dry sinuses and throat
- Difficulty speaking and swallowing food
- Painful sores inside your mouth or on your tongue
- Red or cracked tongue
- Cracked lips or corners of the mouth
- Unpleasant or metallic taste in your mouth
- Burning sensation in your mouth
- Difficulties wearing dentures
- Difficulty tasting food and drinks, even when consuming the same items as before
These symptoms can range from mild to severe, depending on the underlying cause. If they are persistent, you should see a doctor as soon as possible to rule out any serious medical conditions.
How to Prevent Dry Mouth
A dry mouth can be an irritating and even uncomfortable condition. Fortunately, there are a few steps you can take to reduce or prevent it from happening in the first place, including:
- Drink plenty of water
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol
- Chew sugar-free gum
- Reduce stress levels
- Visit a dentist regularly
- Breathe through your nose instead of your mouth
- Avoid over-the-counter (OTC) medications that cause mouth dryness
These tips can help you reduce the chances of developing a dry mouth and prevent its symptoms from becoming severe. Be sure to talk to your doctor or dentist if your dry mouth persists despite these measures. They can offer more specialized advice on how to manage your condition.
How to Treat A Dry Mouth
The treatment for your dry mouth will depend on the underlying cause. If the doctor determines the exact cause of your mouth dryness, they will treat this cause. For instance, if the medication makes your mouth dry, the doctor may recommend an alternative or reduce the dosage.
For conditions like diabetes and oral thrush, the medical professional will prescribe the appropriate medication. For instance, they might recommend insulin injections to control diabetes or antifungal medication for oral thrush.
In some cases, lifestyle changes may be necessary. Drinking plenty of fluids and avoiding caffeine, smoking, and alcohol can help keep your saliva production in check.
If the lifestyle changes don't work, the doctor may recommend artificial saliva to ensure your mouth stays wet. This saliva may be in the form of a lozenge, gel, or spray. Ensure you use the saliva substitute as prescribed by your doctor.
When to See a Doctor
If you are experiencing a dry mouth, you can start by trying the home remedies mentioned here. However, if your symptoms persist or become more severe, you should see a doctor as soon as possible to rule out any serious medical conditions.
Make an appointment with a dentist or physician if the discomfort caused by dry mouth is more than minor and interferes with chewing and swallowing. Symptoms like mouth sores should also prompt you to seek medical attention. A doctor can diagnose the underlying cause of your dry mouth and provide appropriate treatment for it.
If the doctor suspects you have dry mouth allergies, they may recommend an allergy test to determine the specific allergens causing your symptoms. The test is especially crucial during the allergy season when the number of allergens in the air increases. The two main allergy tests are the skin prick test and the at-home allergy test.
The Skin Prick Test
During the skin prick test, the doctor will place a small amount of an allergen on the surface of your skin. They will then prick the skin with a small needle to allow a tiny amount of the allergen to enter the skin.
Any reactions, such as redness or swelling, indicate that you may be allergic to that particular substance. This test can be uncomfortable and requires you to set aside a few hours to go to the allergist's office.
At-home Allergy Test
If you don't have time to visit a doctor, the at-home allergy test from Wyndly is a convenient and pain-free way of testing for allergies. To complete the test, start by making an online order for a CLIA-certified test kit from Wyndly. Wyndly will ship the kit to your home.
Once you get the kit, perform a finger-prick test to draw a sample and send it back to Wyndly for testing. The allergy doctors will interpret your allergy profile and create a personalized treatment plan based on the results.
You can manage your dry mouth allergies using several treatments and remedies. Here are some of the options you can consider:
The first line of defense when treating dry mouth allergies is to limit your exposure to the allergens causing your symptoms. Stay indoors as much as possible during allergy season, and keep windows closed. If you go outside, try to check the pollen count first and go outside when the pollen count is low. You can also wear a face mask to minimize contact with allergens like tree pollen and avoid activities that stir up allergens, such as gardening, mowing, and raking to decrease exposure during high pollen count days.
OTC or prescription medications can often temporarily relieve the symptoms of allergies. These medications include antihistamines, decongestants, nasal sprays, and mast cell stabilizers. Since antihistamines can worsen your mouth dryness, talk to your doctor before taking these medications.
Sublingual immunotherapy is the best treatment option if you're looking for long-term allergy relief. This treatment involves exposing your body to gradually increasing amounts of the allergens that trigger your symptoms through dissolvable tablets or drops placed under your tongue. Over time, your immune system builds up a tolerance to allergens and stops reacting when exposed to your allergy triggers.
Take Our Allergy Assessment
If you're looking for long-term relief from your allergies, Wyndly can help. Our allergy specialists will create a personalized treatment plan to retrain your immune system from reacting to allergens. Take our 2-minute online assessment to get started on your road to relief.