One mother revealed how a simple ear infection made her look like a “monster” and feel like she was “bitten” by thousands of red fire ants after suffering a severe reaction to prescribed antibiotics.
Rachel Carey, 38, of Dallas, was given amoxicillin, a drug used to treat bacterial infections that her doctor had taken “often before” in November 2019 to treat earache.
Within three days, her skin had blistered so badly as a result of a rare condition known as Stevens-Johnson Syndrome that she had to be admitted to a hospital burn department, and she feared she would never go back to work could return.
Although Carey was covered in excruciating blisters from head to toe, doctors were amazed at how well her skin had recovered, and almost a year later she is hoping for a full recovery.
Rachel Carey, 38, of Dallas, looking up before her severe allergic reaction to prescribed antibiotics given by her doctor after contracting an ear infection in November 2019
After Rachel felt nauseous a few hours after taking amoxicillan, she noticed that the skin on her neck began to “bubble” and that her condition worsened over several days
Carey’s back is blistered – she was eventually admitted to a burn department at a hospital in her hometown Dallas after being sent home three times from the emergency room
The shocking reaction was caused by Stevens-Johnson Syndrome – a rare, serious disorder of the skin and mucous membranes in which the top layer of skin dies
The 38-year-old Texan only felt ill a few hours after the first dose of antibiotics and noticed the next morning that the skin on her neck was beginning to “bubble”.
WHAT IS STEVENS-JOHNSON SYNDROME?
Stevens-Johnson syndrome is “a rare but serious condition that affects the skin, mucous membranes, genitals and eyes,” according to the NHS website.
The mucous membrane is the soft layer of tissue that lines the digestive system from the mouth to the anus, as well as the genital tract (reproductive organs) and the eyeballs.
The syndrome is usually caused by an unpredictable reaction to certain medications and often begins “with flu-like symptoms followed by a red or purple rash that spreads and blisters”.
After a period of time, the skin dies and peels off with treatment, often in a burn ward, to “identify the underlying cause, control symptoms, and prevent complications”.
She explains, “I have been prescribed amoxicillin, an antibiotic, and Tylenol, paracetamol. I took it around 7 p.m. Not long after that, I started to itch and noticed the skin bubbling on my neck. ‚
After Rachel was sent home from the hospital three times over the next three days when her condition worsened, she was eventually admitted and stayed in the burns department for 12 days.
Carey had Stevens-Johnson syndrome – a rare, serious disorder of the skin and mucous membranes in which the top layer of skin dies – and is usually caused by a reaction to medication.
“I had taken this medication before, but this time my body refused it for some reason. I went to the emergency room three times over three days, and they ended up taking me to the burns department for the fourth time. ‚
Rachel, who is Tayla’s mother, 19, said the blisters were unbearable and said, “It was so painful. It feels like you’re on fire from within. It felt like I was being bitten all over by thousands of red fire ants.
“It was traumatic and intense to see how my face and skin looked so different. I didn’t recognize myself when I looked in the mirror. I felt like a monster. ‚
Rachel, who works in data management and analytics at a university, said, “I had an ear infection and was urgently treated. I ended up staying in the cremation department for 12 days. Halfway through they did a biopsy of my skin and then they confirmed it was Stevens-Johnson Syndrome. ‚
When Rachel caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror at the hospital, she was traumatized and said it felt like she was seeing a ‘monster’.
Carey said the experience was so painful. It feels like you are burning inside out. “Pictured: your blistered skin during the height of the reaction
Although she is still scarred a year later, Carey hopes to make a full recovery from her illness
She fears that after the reaction that caused her lips to swell, she will never be able to return to work
Hospital doctors should be better informed about the condition, she says. “I shouldn’t have gone to the emergency room four times, even though I could see how I was changing.”
Despite the severity of the blistering, the doctors who treated Carey were amazed at how quickly her skin had started to heal
Common side effects of antibiotics
- Nausea (feeling like throwing up)
Rachel said the first sign was that she was feeling uncomfortable and itchy – and in the days to come she noticed her skin bubbling and her lips and eyes swelling.
She is now calling on people in the medical field to become more aware of Stevens-Johnsons Syndrome after claiming to have been sent home from her local hospital three times.
She said, “I wish the doctors knew more about it, I shouldn’t have gone to the emergency room four times, even though I could see myself change.
‘There needs to be education and awareness of this condition, as well as warnings on pharmacy labels that SJS is a serious side effect.
“It didn’t have to take them to the hospital four times before they recognized and accepted me.”
Still suffering from dry eyes and mild skin discoloration, Rachel is telling her story for the first time since trying to raise awareness.
She said, “It was a terrible time, but my belief in God got me through this experience. I tried to keep my spirits up by praying, listening to the scriptures, and getting encouragement from family and friends.
Hopeful: Carey says the experience made her “stronger” and she now feels that she can do anything
“I’ve been through a lot of things in my life and I knew I could get through them too.
She adds, “The doctors were amazed at how quickly I healed. I thought I could look like this forever, I didn’t know how to get back to work, but stayed true.
“I still have some scars, but I’ve come through the worst and know that one day I’ll be 100% healed. After going through this, I’m so much stronger as if I could conquer anything. ‚
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