Stevens-Johnson Syndrome

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Stevens-Johnson Syndrome (SJS) is a rare but serious disorder that affects the skin and mucous membranes. It is characterized by a range of symptoms, including fever, sore throat, cough, burning eyes, skin rash, blistering of the skin and mucous membranes, and shedding of the skin. This condition can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention. In this article, we will explore the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for Stevens-Johnson Syndrome.

The Onset of Symptoms

Stevens-Johnson Syndrome often begins with flu-like symptoms, such as fever, sore throat, and cough. These initial symptoms may be mistaken for a common cold or flu, leading to a delay in diagnosis. However, as the condition progresses, more severe symptoms start to appear.

Burning Eyes and Skin Rash

One of the hallmark symptoms of Stevens-Johnson Syndrome is the presence of burning eyes and a skin rash. The eyes may become red, itchy, and painful, and the skin rash can develop anywhere on the body. The rash may start as small, red spots and quickly progress to blisters or large, painful patches of skin.

Blisters and Shedding of Skin

As the condition worsens, the blisters on the skin and mucous membranes can become more widespread. These blisters are filled with fluid and can be extremely painful. In severe cases, the skin may start to shed, exposing raw, sensitive areas. This shedding of the skin is a critical stage of the disease and requires immediate medical intervention.

Causes and Risk Factors

The exact cause of Stevens-Johnson Syndrome is not fully understood. However, it is believed to be an immune system reaction triggered by certain medications or infections. Some common medications associated with SJS include antibiotics, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and anticonvulsants. Infections, such as herpes, pneumonia, and HIV, can also increase the risk of developing this condition.

Genetic Predisposition

While anyone can develop Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, certain individuals may be genetically predisposed to the condition. Certain genetic variations have been identified that increase the likelihood of an adverse reaction to medications or infections, leading to SJS.

Treatment and Management

Stevens-Johnson Syndrome requires immediate medical attention and hospitalization. The primary goal of treatment is to manage symptoms, prevent complications, and promote healing. Here are some key aspects of the treatment and management of SJS:

Discontinuation of Causative Medications

If a medication is identified as the cause of Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, it is crucial to discontinue its use immediately. This may involve consulting with a healthcare professional to find suitable alternatives or adjusting the dosage of other medications.

Supportive Care

Supportive care plays a vital role in the treatment of SJS. This includes providing pain relief, maintaining hydration, and preventing infection. Pain medications, such as non-opioid analgesics, can help alleviate discomfort. Intravenous fluids may be administered to ensure adequate hydration, and antibiotics may be prescribed to prevent or treat infections.

Specialized Wound Care

Due to the extensive skin involvement in Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, specialized wound care is essential. This may involve the use of non-adherent dressings, topical ointments, and regular monitoring of the wounds for signs of infection. In severe cases, a burn unit or specialized dermatology center may be required for optimal care.

Can Stevens-Johnson Syndrome be Cured?

Stevens-Johnson Syndrome is a severe condition that requires prompt medical intervention. While there is no specific cure for SJS, early diagnosis and appropriate treatment can significantly improve outcomes. The prognosis for individuals with SJS varies depending on the extent of skin involvement and the presence of complications.

It is important to note that prevention is key when it comes to Stevens-Johnson Syndrome. If you have a known sensitivity to certain medications or have experienced adverse reactions in the past, inform your healthcare provider. They can help identify alternative medications or take precautions to minimize the risk of developing SJS.


Stevens-Johnson Syndrome is a rare but serious condition that requires immediate medical attention. The symptoms, such as fever, sore throat, cough, burning eyes, skin rash, blistering of the skin and mucous membranes, and shedding of the skin, should not be ignored. Prompt diagnosis and appropriate treatment are crucial for managing this condition and preventing complications. If you suspect you or someone you know may have Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, seek medical help without delay.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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