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What happens during a Sjogren’s flare?

Sjögren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disorder that affects the moisture-producing glands in the body. This includes the tear glands and salivary glands. When Sjögren’s causes inflammation in these glands, it reduces the amount of tears and saliva they produce. This can lead to symptoms of dry eyes and dry mouth.

In Sjögren’s, symptoms can flare up from time to time. A flare is when symptoms suddenly get worse for a period of time before improving again. Sjögren’s flares can cause increased dryness and pain that can disrupt daily life.

What causes Sjögren’s flares?

Doctors aren’t entirely sure what triggers Sjögren’s flares. Possible causes include:

  • Infections, such as sinusitis, bronchitis, or urinary tract infections
  • Stress
  • Hormonal changes
  • Medications
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Weather changes

Flare triggers seem to vary from person to person. Keeping a symptom diary can help identify personal flare triggers.

What are the symptoms of a Sjögren’s flare?

Symptoms that may get worse during a Sjögren’s flare include:

  • Dry eyes: stinging, burning, grittiness, light sensitivity
  • Dry mouth: difficulty swallowing dry foods, needing to drink liquids with meals
  • Fatigue: lack of energy, severe tiredness
  • Muscle and joint pain: achiness, stiffness
  • Swollen salivary glands: tender, swollen glands under the jaw
  • Skin rashes: red, scaly patches on the skin

In addition to worsening existing symptoms, new symptoms can appear during a flare. These may include:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Fever
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Numbness and tingling in the limbs

How long do Sjögren’s flares last?

For many people with Sjögren’s, flares tend to come and go unpredictably. They can last for weeks to months before symptoms improve. Some factors that influence flare duration include:

  • How severe the flare symptoms are
  • How well flare treatments work
  • Whether the flare was triggered by an infection or other factor
  • How long it takes to identify and address triggers

Keeping a symptom and flare journal can help identify how long flares typically last for each person.

When to see a doctor

It’s a good idea to touch base with your doctor when you experience a Sjögren’s flare. However, you should make an appointment sooner rather than later if you have:

  • Sudden swelling in the lymph nodes, joints, or face
  • Unexplained fever over 100.4°F (38°C)
  • Fatigue that makes daily activities difficult
  • New neurological symptoms like numbness or headaches
  • Vision changes like double vision

Severe symptoms may require prescription medications or other interventions to help manage the flare.

How are Sjögren’s flares treated?

Treatment focuses on managing symptoms during flares. Options may include:

  • Artificial tears and gels – For dry eyes. Preservative-free options can help minimize irritation.
  • Humidifier – Adds moisture to the air to help dry mucus membranes.
  • NSAIDs – Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen can reduce inflammation and pain.
  • Steroid eye drops – Prescription eye drops can decrease inflammation in dry eyes.
  • Pilocarpine – Prescription medication to stimulate saliva production.
  • Cyclosporine emulsion – Immunomodulator eye drops for chronic dry eyes.
  • Oral glucocorticoids – Short-term low dose steroids to control widespread inflammation.

Good flare management also includes paying attention to flare triggers and avoiding them when possible. Stress-reduction techniques, getting enough rest, staying hydrated, and using humidifiers can help minimize flare symptoms.

How can you tell if a Sjögren’s flare is ending?

Signs that a Sjögren’s flare may be ending include:

  • Decreased dryness and irritation in the eyes and mouth
  • Being able to reduce the use of artificial tears and gels
  • Feeling less fatigue and muscle achiness
  • Swollen glands shrinking back to normal
  • Skin rashes fading

Symptoms don’t always disappear completely after a flare. But you can expect significant improvement compared to the height of the flare.


Sjögren’s flares are episodic worsening of autoimmune symptoms. They are caused by immune system overactivity rather than external triggers. Flares can substantially disrupt quality of life for weeks or months.

Managing flares requires paying attention to symptoms and adjusting treatments accordingly. Work closely with your doctor to identify effective therapies for getting flare symptoms back under control. With the right treatment regimen, Sjögren’s flares can be managed successfully.