Since there are no established ways of predicting a person’s risks of having severe cutaneous adverse reactions (SCAR) to drugs, increased awareness of the condition and related diseases to ensure early intervention and the adoption of preventive measures are important to avoid life-threatening scenarios, an expert said at the inaugural meeting of the SCAR Patient Association in Taiwan on Sunday
A 33-year old woman shared her story at the meeting, saying that she was happily planning her wedding early in 2011 when she came down with a cold a month before the big day. She took some medication and ended up being hospitalized for several months due to an allergic reaction that left her nearly blind. She was told that she has Stevens-Johnson Syndrome (SJS), a sometimes fatal extreme allergic reaction to drugs, and now suffers from vision loss, dry eyes and eyelid abnormalities.
Chung Wen-hung (鍾文宏), the director of Chang Gung Memorial Hospital’s Drug Hypersensitivity Clinical and Research Center, said that people can easily overlook the early symptoms of SJS — sore throat, fever, mouth sores and red eyes — because they are similar to the common cold.
“Since people in general are not aware of the disease and even doctors are sometimes not alert enough to see the signs, people who are susceptible to the syndrome might continue to take allergy-inducing drugs even after they have started to develop early symptoms [of SJS],” Chung said. “A difference of one or two days taking these drugs can be immense for those with allergies.”
Medications such as painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs, antibiotics and first line drugs for treating hyperuricemia and epilepsy are most likely to induce SCAR, including SJS, the dermatologist said.
People can have differing allergic reactions to drugs, so there is no way to ascertain that someone is risk-free, he said.
“You can be exposed to the risk by taking a drug you have never taken before, or by taking a newly approved drug,” Chung said.
“One can still be at risk of adverse reactions even if they experienced none the first time they took the drug,” he said.
“The risk might persist even after the first or second exposure without allergic consequences,” he added.
Early detection of suspected symptoms, which can be made more possible by increasing public information and awareness, is crucial for the affected patients, Chung said.
Huang Chu-song (黃琢嵩), executive director of the Eden Social Welfare Foundation, which has supported the establishment of the patient association, said that Asians are genetically more susceptible to SJS than Caucasians.
There are about 200 SJS cases a year in the nation, and the condition has a mortality rate of 5 to 10 percent, and causes severe health problems for those who survive.