Long ago, there was an ad campaign for “The Heartbreak of Psoriaisis” — sounded much classier than “The Heartbreak of Dry, Scaly Skin”. Similarly, Sialorrhea sounds much classier than…., um, drooling.
Yes, drooling is one of the non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, and, annoyingly, one of my symptoms. Excessive saliva and drooling occurs in 50-80% of people with Parkinson’s. Why? Well, swallowing all that spit you produce (a liter a day, who knew?) is a spontaneous muscular function, and your muscle-brain spontaneity is starting to break down. In other words, I have to start consciously thinking about swallowing. Also, keeping your mouth shut is not just wise advice, but another muscular movement that, among other things, keeps the saliva from spilling out of your mouth. That’s why you frequently see me with my mouth hanging open, if I’m not consciously thinking about keeping it shut.
(Hmmm…the same source for the info above also says excessively runny nose is also common among folks with PD. Yep, guilty as charged. Why? Doesn’t seem like a muscular motion to me.)
The drooling is just an annoyance, but I am a little worried about the impact on my singing. I’m starting to drool in the middle of a song — very annoying, and hard to disguise when you have to stop to swallow. This fall I have signed up for jazz vocal lessons, culminating in…ta da!…a jazz performance with the instructor’s combo. So I hope I won’t be drooling while belting it out — kind of takes away from your diva persona.
Yes, there are various treatments for sialorrhea, but they sound worse than the minor annoyance. They mostly involve Botox! Eeeek! (Oh yes, that is one advantage of PD — the “Parkinson mask” where your face starts to go slack — muscles again — is great for wrinkles! I frequently do not have the forehead crease between my eyes that I’ve had since my 20s. Yahoo — Parkinson’s, the Fountain of Youth.)
The drooling falls under the “autonomic impairment” symptoms of PD. The autonomic nervous system controls many of the automatic body functions such as control of heart rate, blood pressure, sweating and digestion. These functions are no longer so automatic and this is why when I stand up from crouching (weeding, wiping the floor, etc.), I feel faint. The fancy word is orthostatic hypotension, which means the blood pressure adjuster is not working as automatically as it used to.
Similarly, I recently went to the eye doctor because I was having a lot of trouble seeing. Turned out my prescription was exactly the same as two years ago. So what was the problem? Extremely dry eyes. I’ve always had a dry eye problem, but it’s evidently gotten worse as my eyes are not automatically blinking. The solution is pretty simple — get more religious about putting in eye drops multiple times a day.
So my status is great, and my adventures continue: these “autonomic impairments” are merely minor annoyances.