Stevens Johnson Syndrome Symptoms
Stevens Johnson Syndrome Symptoms
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Stevens Johnson Syndrome Symptoms

Stevens-Johnson syndrome (SJS) is a serious skin condition caused by an adverse reaction to an over-the-counter or prescription drug. Without treatment from a Steve­ns-Johnson syndrome specialist, the condition can progress to toxic epidermal necrolysis and even death.

Since SJS is a progressive condition, understanding the signs of early-stage Stevens-Johnson syndrome can help you seek treatment before the adverse reaction turns deadly. Four early Stevens Johnson syndrome symptoms to look out for are fever, rash, sore mouth and throat, and burning eyes. If you or a loved one suffered injuries due to drug-induced SJS syndrome, an SJS attorney can help you understand your legal right to compensation.

What Is Stevens-Johnson Syndrome?

Stevens-Johnson syndrome (SJS) is an adverse drug reaction that manifests as skin lesions and flu-like symptoms. It is characterized by a blistering skin rash that erodes the body surface and may spread to the mucous membranes in the eyes, nose, throat, and other areas. 

Stevens Johnson syndrome symptoms range from moderate fever to severe blisters and skin peeling that can lead to dangerous bacterial infections. SJS is considered a medical emergency, as untreated SJS can be life-threatening.

Drugs That Can Cause Stevens-Johnson Syndrome

Drug-induced Stevens-Johnson syndrome occurs when the body’s immune system has an adverse skin reaction to a medication. Common causative drugs include:

  • Antibiotics, including penicillin, amoxicillin, and cephalexin
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil), and acetaminophen (Tylenol)
  • Allopurinol
  • Vancomycin
  • Nevirapine
  • Anticonvulsants

Stevens-Johnson syndrome progresses quickly, so prompt medical attention is crucial. If you experience early signs of Stevens-Johnson syndrome, seek medical attention as soon as possible.  A medical professional can test for SJS and prescribe prompt treatment to reduce the potential for serious long-term effects. 

Understanding the Differences Between SJS, TEN, and Dress

Stevens-Johnson syndrome (SJS) is sometimes referred to as toxic epidermal necrolysis (TEN). This is a more severe variant of SJS. In addition to the rash and lesions of SJS, TEN shows progressive skin peeling as dead skin from the blistered rash erodes.

SJS and TEN are largely differentiated by the amount of skin loss on the body surface area. SJS features skin loss on less than 10% of the body’s surface area, while TEN classification is reserved for patients with body and mucosal surface loss on more than 30% of the body’s surface area. Like severe burns, SJS and TEN skin loss removes the body’s natural protective barrier, creating a greater potential for dangerous bacterial infection. 

Drug reaction with eosinophilia and systemic systems (DRESS) is another type of severe cutaneous adverse reaction (SCAR) to certain drugs. Like SJS and TEN, DRESS begins with a rash, fever, and certain flu-like symptoms. However, DRESS rarely involves lesions on the mucosal membranes and almost always attacks the organs, particularly the kidneys and liver. 

All three conditions are adverse reactions to causative drugs, but each requires a different treatment. 

Early-Onset Stevens Johnson Syndrome Symptoms

When they identify the symptoms early on, medical professionals can test for Stevens-Johnson syndrome and administer the appropriate treatment. Patients with early stage Stevens-Johnson syndrome typically exhibit the following four early symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Sore mouth and throat
  • Rash
  • Burning eyes

Identifying these flu-like symptoms can ensure prompt diagnosis and treatment before the condition progresses.


During the initial stages of Stevens-Johnson syndrome, patients may present with a fever that can reach dangerous levels. Signs of fever include a temperature over 100 degrees, sweating, chills, muscle aches, dehydration, and weakness. To avoid complications from fever, seek medical attention if you have a temperature over 103°F. Fevers over 105° F can cause irreparable damage to your brain and internal organs.

Sore Mouth and Throat

Since SJS affects the mucous membranes, it is common for patients to feel pain and inflammation in the mouth and throat. Stevens-Johnson syndrome oral manifestations may include sores and blisters in the lining of the mouth, throat, and esophagus. As the condition progresses, you may find it difficult to swallow, eat, or drink. 


Rash occurs with the onset of Stevens-Johnson syndrome.

Burning Eyes

Early-stage Stevens-Johnson syndrome eye inflammation can present as a burning sensation. Burning eyes with SJS may indicate conjunctivitis, ulceration, blisters and holes in the cornea, or inflammation inside the iris. Even after the ulceration and blistering resolve, SJS patients can suffer scarring and impaired vision. 

Stevens Johnson Syndrome Symptoms After the Condition Has Progressed

Stevens-Johnson syndrome is especially dangerous because the initial symptoms can be mistaken for other conditions. By the time the skin rash leads to lesions and ulcers on the skin and mucous membranes, you could be at risk for more serious health effects, including:

  • Dehydration
  • Bacterial infection
  • Pneumonia
  • Sepsis
  • Shock
  • Organ failure
  • Skin and tissue loss
  • Acute respiratory failure
  • Scarring and disfigurement
  • Visual impairment and vision loss
  • Death

Patients who fail to receive treatment in a timely manner are at greater risk of mortality. 

How Fast Does Stevens-Johnson Syndrome Progress?

Stevens Johnson syndrome symptoms can arise within hours, a few days or up to eight weeks after you begin taking certain medications. If you already suffered SJS due to drug exposure, you could experience a recurrence within hours of taking the causative medication again. Due to SJS’s quick progression, immediate emergency medical treatment is critical. 

How To Prevent Stevens-Johnson Syndrome

Recent studies indicate that genetic factors could play a role in individual susceptibility to Stevens-Johnson syndrome. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that individuals of Asian and South Asian ancestry screen for a specific gene variant before taking certain drugs that could trigger SJS. 

If you previously suffered from SJS, you can reduce the potential for a reoccurrence by avoiding the causative drug and similar medications.  Stevens-Johnson syndrome reoccurrences are typically more severe and life-threatening, so avoidance is crucial.

Take Legal Action if You Have Developed SJS

If you developed SJS after taking an over-the-counter drug or prescription medication, you could have grounds to pursue compensation from the pharmaceutical manufacturer, distributor, or advertiser through a product liability lawsuit.

At Dunn Sheehan, we know how Stevens-Johnson syndrome can create severe long-term challenges. Stevens-Johnson syndrome supportive therapy and toxic epidermal necrolysis recovery can be painful and time-consuming. Even with timely medical treatment, you could face years of expensive medical treatment, lost income, and pain and suffering. 

Our pharmaceutical litigation team can guide you through the legal process so you can seek the compensation you deserve for these losses. Contact our Stevens-Johnson syndrome lawyers today to discuss your options during a free case evaluation.

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