Millions of prescriptions are filled around the world each day, ranging from preventative antibiotics to the much needed anticonvulsant that helps a young child cope with epilepsy.

Most parents know that children should not take aspirin due to the predominance of Reyes Syndrome but few individuals are fully aware of all the possible side effects that can come with both over the counter and prescription medication.

Over 64% of all patient visits to physicians result in prescriptions. Understanding the impact that regularly taking medications, even those prescribed for you, is important to know before starting any new medication.

Stevens Johnson Syndrome Awareness

This August marks the 20th year that the Stevens Johnson Syndrome Foundation has been raising awareness about this little known severe allergic reaction. Founded in 1996, the SJS Foundation was created to help families and patients of the reaction connect for support and spread awareness about allergic reactions.

Founder Jean McCawley established the organization after her daughter Julie lost the sight in her right eye as a result of Stevens Johnson Syndrome as a one year old child.

Each year the SJS Foundation works throughout the nation to request petitions declaring August the official SJS Awareness month. Since launching the awareness campaign nearly every state in the U.S. has provided official proclamations in honor of the month. 

Many allergic reactions to medications are mild but awareness about Stevens Johnson Syndrome (or SJS) is key to avoiding life altering disabilities that come with severe reactions.

Stevens Johnson Syndrome [or its more extreme variant Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis Syndrome] can be caused by nearly any medication, including over-the-counter drugs like ibuprofen. SJS attacks the skin, eyes and other mucous membranes throughout the body, reacting similar to a severe burn. Patients are treated in the ICU and burn units. SJS can be fatal and even with treatment may still result in lifelong complications. 

Symptoms of SJS
  • Rash, blisters, or red splotches on skin
  • Persistent fever
  • Blisters in mouth, eyes, ears, nose, genital area
  • Swelling of eyelids, red eyes
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Recent history of having taken a prescription or over-the-counter medication

Photos of SJS have been intentionally left out of this post. If you wish to see images of SJS, please visit the Stevens Johnson Syndrome Foundation website. 

Allergic drug reactions are one of the leading causes of death in the United States and if FDA estimates are accurate, account for over 100,000 deaths annually. There is no mandatory reporting of allergic drug reactions and as a result, actual numbers are difficult to obtain. Voluntary reporting of all reactions, both severe and minor help the FDA determine what medications remain on the market and the types of warning labels provided to consumers.

Thanks to the work of dedicated families petitioning the FDA a black box warning appears on over-the-counter Children’s Motrin warning families about ibuprofen and Stevens Johnson Syndrome. Prior to this label’s addition to the product packaging hundreds of children experienced SJS after taking the product for minor aches and pains. It is impossible to know how many lives have been saved as a result of proper warning labels.

Questions to ask your doctor or pharmacist:
  • What are the most common reactions to this type of medication?
  • Do I [or my child] need this, or is this preventative?
  • Will this interact with anything else I/or my child is taking?
  • What allergic reaction symptoms should I watch for?

Discussing allergic reactions with your doctor and pharmacist can help create awareness of any drug interactions that you may experience and help provide understanding of the early signs of a reaction. Prior to starting a medication, be aware of you or your child’s health. Pay attention to rashes or other symptoms that may be warning signs to a larger reaction.

If you suspect you or a loved one is experiencing any kind of allergic reaction to a medication, contact your doctor and stop taking any medication immediately. Early recognition of an allergic reaction is the best prevention for serious reactions like SJS.

Learn More About Stevens Johnson Syndrome:

Julie’s Story 
SJS Fact Sheet 
SJS Support Group
SJS Kids Support Group 

Medications are not the only chemicals we regularly put into our bodies. Want to learn more? Read up on the shampoo ingredients you need to know.

Sources: FDA, Stevens Johnson Syndrome Foundation

Photo Credits: Pexels, Apothecary, Kourtlynlott, Sara


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