The skin is the largest organ of the body. When skin diseases develop they can have important consequences on one's physical and mental health. In addition to being the largest organ of the body, the skin is also the organ most frequently affected by adverse drug reactions. In 1997, nearly thirty percent of all adverse drug reactions reported to the FDA were skin diseases and related reactions. Nearly all medications pose some risk, however small, of causing skin reactions. Others pose a greater risk of causing serious and life-threatening skin diseases like Stevens-Johnson syndrome and toxic epidermal necrolysis.
The exact cause of many skin diseases is often unknown, though many are due to allergy or toxicity. Some skin allergies, for example, are dose independent and may actually get worse or persist after the medication has been stopped. These skin diseases are important to properly diagnose, as a subsequent exposure to the same medication can produce a more extreme reaction. Conversely, toxic reactions to drugs are typically related to the dose and symptoms develop soon after the medication is taken.
There are many factors that can increase one's risk of developing skin diseases caused by drug reactions. Genetic factors may predispose an individual to skin diseases caused by certain drugs. People with hepatic disease, renal disease, lupus, and AIDS may also be at increased risk of skin reactions. Elderly individuals tend to experience more skin diseases from drug reactions. Drugs that are applied topically also increase the risk of reaction more so than oral and other routes of administration.
There are many skin diseases that can be caused by adverse drug reactions, each of which has a unique set of symptoms and treatments. Drug-related skin diseases often pose a diagnostic challenge to physicians because they can mimic other skin diseases. When a patient is taking a number of drugs, it may be difficult to discern which medication caused the skin reaction. There are at least a dozen skin diseases that can be caused by drug-reactions including, but not limited to exanthema, dermatitis, acne, psoriasis, purpura, vasculitis, Steven-Johnson Syndrome and toxic epidermal necrolysis.
The latter two conditions, Stevens-Johnson syndrome and toxic epidermal necrolysis, are skin diseases whose sole cause is adverse drug reaction. These conditions are extremely serious and can be life threatening, it not promptly and properly treated. People of all ages may develop these skin diseases as a result of drug reaction. With these skin diseases, a red blistering rash explodes all over the skin and mucous membranes. The effects of these skin diseases are often so severe that they interfere with one's ability to eat, breath, see, and urinate, among other serious complications.
There are a number of drugs that are more likely than others to cause skin diseases. Some antibiotics, NSAIDs, barbiturates, salicylates (aspirin), ACE Inhibitors, and a number of other drugs can all cause skin diseases. If you develop a skin disease while taking or shortly after discontinuing any medication, you should consult with your physician.