Medications (like ibuprofen and acetaminophen) and vaccines can sometimes cause a painful rash, scaly skin, and itchy blisters. Stevens Johnson Syndrome, a rare and severe skin condition that includes these symptoms, may occur as a side effect. 

 While it only impacts one in one million annually, milder immune skin reactions occur more commonly, representing one percent of dermatology visits. Stevens Johnson Syndrome (SJS) is a serious condition that could be fatal and requires medical attention. Stopping rashes before they become worse is key.

Recognizing signs of vulnerable skin, including milder rashes like erythema multiforme, preceding Stevens Johnson Syndrome (SJS) is vital to the prevention of the severely painful rash that hallmarks SJS, says Aaron Hartman, MD, functional medicine specialist at Richmond Integrative & Functional Medicine in Virginia

“Stevens Johnson Syndrome greatly stresses the body. It affects the immune system, raises cortisol levels, causes loss of electrolytes and dehydration, and increases the risk for infection.” As severe reactions can cause bad side effects, like loss of skin, it’s important to focus on infection prevention. 

Vaccine And Tylenol Side Effects

Both vaccine and Tylenol side effects can cause skin reactions, including the serious SJS condition. The first line of defense in treating this painful rash is removing the cause. If you’re taking Tylenol, stop the medication. If the cause is viral, then treating the virus becomes necessary. But after getting at the source, attention must be turned towards preventing and treating skin infection as a result of the rash.

To do so, the treatment for SJS typically involves silver. The main medical risk to people with SJS is infection of wounds. Silver provides natural protection against infection. “The bottom line is, infection is the biggest concern when dealing with SJS,” Dr. Hartman says. “There are multiple forms of silver, used for different indications, but silver sulfadiazine used as a topical cream, in particular for Stevens Johnson Syndrome, shows great benefit in the prevention of infection in the wounds caused by SJS.” 

Silver sulfadiazine is a topical treatment that includes silver and an antibiotic (sulfadiazine). This has been the standard of care for treatment in burn clinics for many decades. The slow immune reaction that happens with SJS is similar to skin burns, which is why burn clinics often see patients with the condition. The skin also peels in SJS, as it does in cases of burns. 

Antibiotic Resistance: A Problem

But with antibiotic resistance being a major problem of the century, high-quality non-antibiotic silver provides an alternative to typical antibiotic treatment. In addition to its antimicrobial properties, silver is also pretty safe. “Few reported cases of silver toxicity exist in the medical literature,” writes Robert E. Burrell, a biomedical engineer who revolutionized burn and wound care, in his paper on topical silver treatments in Wound Management and Prevention

Silver has been used for at least six millennia as an antimicrobial agent. Historically, the use of silver dates as far back as the Ancient Romans, who stored wine in silver bowls to prevent disease and decay. In the 1800s, doctors dressed surgical wounds with silver wires. Colloidal silver was used in the 1900s as a germicide in hospitals. Silver’s popularity decreased in the antibiotic era. However, it’s been gaining more traction in recent years as a non-antibiotic alternative to treating infections and disease.

History Of Silver As Treatment

While in the past, silver has been restricted to alternative medicine, the body of evidence for its antimicrobial properties and lack of toxicity is building in mainstream medicine as well. But more study of the element is still required. “The mechanisms through which silver exerts its toxic effects against bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and cancer cells are rather complex and have started being elucidated only recently,” writes Serenella Medici and his colleagues in their paper on medical uses of silver in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry. 

Silver proves beneficial both in wound care and as the coating for medical devices. In another review article focused on silver’s healing properties in the journal Surgical Infections, the authors tout the beneficial effects of silver at reducing or preventing infection. “Silver remains a reasonable addition to the armamentarium against infection and has relatively few side effects,” the authors write in their paper. 

Natural Remedy For A Painful Rash

As Dr. Hartman says, the main concern is preventing and treating infection. The first step is removing the source. This may mean stopping the medication that caused the reaction. Then treating with an antibiotic or silver agent will prevent infection of the wounds. If you’re looking for a non-antibiotic treatment, silver may provide a beneficial natural alternative. 

There are many possible avenues for silver solutions, but it is important to ensure the quality of products. Silver topical treatments can soothe painful rashes and be a life-saver for those dealing with a painful rash as a side effect to a medication or vaccine. With its antimicrobial properties and general safety, silver is a good solution for both those dealing with skin irritations like SJS and other more minor rashes. 

Electrolyte Depletion In SJS

Another aspect to SJS is electrolyte depletion. “Large amounts of sodium, magnesium, and potassium can be lost during the acute phase of Stevens Johnson Syndrome—basically, large amounts of fluid are lost through the denuded skin,” Dr. Hartman says. In addition to preventing infection with antibiotics and/or silver, keeping the patient hydrated and their electrolytes balanced are important elements of treatment, too, Dr. Hartman adds. A properly hydrated patient offers benefits to the immune system, which may help fight infection. Sodium, magnesium, and potassium are lost during the acute phase of Stevens Johnson Syndrome. Adding these supplements may be helpful as well. 

The Bottom Line: Infection Prevention

Stevens Johnson Syndrome causes painful rashes, scaly skin, and itchy blisters, which can become infected. The crux is doctors don’t want their patients’ skin to be infected. History has shown that silver is a natural remedy for infection prevention. It’s been used topically in burn clinics for decades. If someone has a bad reaction to a medication or vaccine, removing the problem at its source is key. In most cases it’s simply stopping the medication causing the reaction. Then the focus should be on staying hydrated, balancing electrolytes, and, above all, preventing infection. 

Jennifer Ball is enrolled in an MA in Science Writing program at Johns Hopkins University. In her free time, she enjoys exploring the city of Chicago and practicing mindfulness meditation on a daily basis. Follow her on social media @jennifercball or visit her website.

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