Man left legally blind after rare allergic reaction as a child

ER physician: Many medications can trigger Stevens-Johnson syndrome


SAN ANTONIO – Now 44, Jose Villanueva said he is still living with the after effects of Stevens-Johnson syndrome, a rare allergic reaction he suffered to a medication he was prescribed at a local emergency room when he was 4 years old.

"I got second-degree burns, burned my tear ducts," Jose Villanueva said, leaving him legally blind.

Painful blisters also filled his mouth and covered much of his body within days of taking phenobarbital for a seizure he suffered at the hospital.

"He had a lot of fever. He was burning up. He had (a) 105 (degree fever)," said his mother, Alejandra Villanueva.

Often it is anti-seizure medication that can trigger Stevens-Johnson syndrome, along with antibiotics, including those known as sulfonamide antibiotics, according to Dr. Shawn Varney, an emergency room physician and a board-certified toxicologist who also teaches at the UT Health Science Center.

"It is a skin condition, which is caused by an acute inflammatory response to medication," Varney said.

The condition made national news after a woman in California was left critically ill with agonizing blisters throughout much of her body.

Varney said they can rupture and lead to the skin peeling off, leading to possible infection and loss of fluids.  

He said although Stevens-Johnson syndrome can strike adults and children, "It's a small portion of people who will develop this, but it's something that is avoidable and preventable."

He said it is vital that people know what medications they are allergic to and that they should avoid taking someone else's medication or sharing their own medicines.

Varney also said if you suspect you have symptoms of Stevens-Johnson syndrome, get medical attention as soon as possible.