Transfer to a Burn Center is a critical need for patients with toxic epidermal necrolysis (TEN), or Stevens-Johnson Syndrome (SJS), a related condition, because both damage the skin in much the same way as a topical or deep tissue burn. These blister-causing conditions are related to underlying infections or allergic reactions to prescription or over-the-counter medications. Both are life-threatening and life-changing because the skin peels off and must heal itself for the patient to combat infection and survive. Like burns, the resulting scars could affect the way a patient feels and how they will be treated once they return home.
There are various drugs linked to SJS and TEN including allopurinol (used for gout and kidney stones), pain killers (Tylenol, Motrin, Aleve), anticonvulsants, anti-depressants, and various antibiotics. Early detection and withdrawal of the drug may help lessen the damage. It’s very important to know that even if you have been taking these medications for a long time, you could still develop an allergic reaction. Genetically, people of Asian descent are more at risk for this kind of drug reaction.
Early symptoms of SJS and TEN include unexplained skin pain, facial swelling, possibly fever, and the development of a skin rash. If you develop these symptoms, especially while taking any of the suspect drugs, you should immediately consult a physician. The rash becomes worse to include purplish spots, blistering, and the shedding of skin. Transfer to a burn unit is the best option as burn unit doctors and staff are experts in the treatment of these types of skin conditions. In addition to treating the cause, i.e., stopping medication, burn unit staff provide supportive care—they treat the symptoms to manage pain, skin damage, and fluid balance. Tissue damage can become severe, causing terrible pain and scarring. Damage to the eyes can also cause blindness. If uncontrolled, the symptoms of SJS and TEN may result in a deadly blood infection called sepsis.
Recovery from SJS and TEN is a long, painful process. The skin is the largest organ in the body and even with its regenerative properties takes time to heal. You may end up with scarring that requires skin grafts or further treatment. If you have developed one of these rare conditions, know that you are not alone—victims of burns are in similar circumstances and have a large network of resources at your disposal.
Many different types of drugs can cause SJS and TEN so it is important to keep your risk factors in mind and watch for symptoms. Treatment for this condition is long-term and expensive so you may also want to consult an experienced attorney—one who has worked with burn victims—to see if you have any options for getting assistance with medical bills. In the meantime, make use of your options for support from a local Burn Center that can connect you with resources or other people with your condition.