The most effective way to relieve symptoms of any type of drug reaction is to stop taking the medication that’s causing it. Always talk to your doctor before discontinuing a medication. If you are taking an antibiotic to fight an infection, for instance, your doctor can replace it with a medication that won’t cause a reaction.
It may take time for the medication to leave the body, so the hives, skin rash, and other symptoms associated with a drug reaction may continue to cause discomfort for a few days or weeks. Your NYU Langone doctor can recommend medication to help relieve lingering symptoms, such as itching, burning, and swelling.
Antihistamines relieve symptoms associated with hives or a morbilliform drug eruption. The immune system releases a chemical called histamine in response to an allergen. Histamine causes blood vessels to widen and skin to swell, resulting in hives. It also causes other types of itchy skin rashes and lesions.
Antihistamines block histamine, alleviating discomfort related to a drug reaction. The medication is taken by mouth, typically for a few weeks. An over-the-counter antihistamine may be effective, or your doctor may give you a prescription.
Corticosteroids reduce inflammation and alleviate the itching, burning, redness, and swelling associated with a skin rash or hives. A doctor may prescribe a topical corticosteroid to relieve symptoms associated with a morbilliform drug eruption. If itching is severe, you may need to take the medication by mouth. In these instances, a doctor prescribes a corticosteroid for about two weeks.
A doctor may also prescribe a corticosteroid taken by mouth to relieve the itching and swelling associated with a drug reaction with eosinophilia and systemic symptoms. Doctors typically recommend a longer course of treatment for this type of drug reaction. This is because symptoms often return one or two weeks after you stop taking the medication that caused the reaction. To prevent a relapse, doctors recommend taking a corticosteroid for at least six weeks to ensure that the body recovers fully.
Stevens-Johnson syndrome is the most serious type of drug reaction. Our doctors carefully monitor your skin and provide wound care to help you heal and to prevent infection. In some instances, doctors may administer corticosteroids to relieve symptoms, often through a vein with intravenous (IV) infusion in a hospital. The decision to administer medication and the duration of treatment are determined by your doctor based on the severity of symptoms and the results of diagnostic tests, such as a blood test or skin biopsy.
If you have Stevens-Johnson syndrome—which causes widespread skin blistering—your doctor may prescribe intravenous immunoglobulin in addition to providing wound care. This medication inhibits the body’s immune response and reduces inflammation in the skin. It is produced by extracting healthy immunoglobulin proteins, called antibodies, from donor blood.
These healthy antibodies, which identify foreign substances in the body, prevent your body’s immune system from causing inflammation, which leads to swelling and skin blisters.