(NewsUSA) – The winter season can be a busy time — family get-togethers, holiday parties, shoveling snow and many other distractions can make it easy to overlook symptoms of dry mouth. After all, isn’t it common to experience an increase in overall dryness, including dry mouth, dry eyes and dry skin during the colder months?

You might ignore your dryness symptoms, believing that they are caused by the weather, and not realize they could be part of a more serious medical condition. If your mouth has been feeling dry this winter, keep reading.

Up to four million Americans are affected by Sjögren’s syndrome (pronounced "SHOW-grens"), an autoimmune disorder that occurs when immune cells attack and destroy exocrine glands, which prevent dryness and produce moisture. This causes people to experience dry-mouth symptoms such as difficulty speaking, chewing or swallowing, cracked or a sore tongue, dry throats, peeling lips, increased cavities and digestive problems.

"No matter what the season, any time you notice changes to your health or body, it’s important to talk to your doctor because no symptom should be ignored," says Dr. Michael Brennan, Director of the Sjögren’s Syndrome and Salivary Disorders Center at Carolinas Medical Center. "Dry, cracked lips, difficulty speaking or swallowing, and sensitivity to certain foods, drinks, and the cold or dry air are all important symptoms to discuss with a physician. They may not sound serious, but those symptoms could be critical in diagnosing Sjögren’s syndrome."

If you’re experiencing dry-mouth symptoms this winter, talk to your doctor. In the meantime, here are a few tips to help manage your dry-mouth symptoms:

* If certain foods or drinks seem to bother you, plan ahead before attending holiday parties or family meals. Ask the host about the menu before you go, or offer to bring a dish that you know you can eat.

* Heating systems can take away moisture in the air. Consider purchasing a humidifier for your home to increase the amount of moisture, especially at night.

* Create a "survive the dryness" kit. Bottles of water, throat lozenges and sugarless gum all help combat dry mouth. Keep a stash of these helpful items at work and in your gym bag, along with an extra bottle of water.

If you have questions about your dryness symptoms or any other physical changes that you may be experiencing, it is important to talk to your doctor. Your doctor can find out what’s causing your symptoms and help you find ways to manage them effectively. For more information about Sjögren’s syndrome and tips for managing your dryness symptoms, visit www.LivingWithDryness.com.