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What Is Stevens-Johnson Syndrome (SJS)?

Stevens-Johnson Syndrome (SJS), also called erythema multiforme major, is a skin disorder that can also affect the eyes. SJS is characterized by painful, blistery lesions on the skin and the mucous membranes (the thin, moist tissues that line body cavities) of the:

  • mouth,
  • throat,
  • genital region, and
  • eyelids.

Stevens-Johnson syndrome can also cause:

  • serious eye problems, such as severe conjunctivitis;
  • iritis, an inflammation inside the eye;
  • corneal blisters and erosions; and
  • corneal holes.

In some cases, the ocular complications from SJS can be disabling and lead to severe vision loss.

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Who Gets Stevens-Johnson Syndrome?

SJS occurs twice as often in men as women, and most cases appear in children and young adults under 30, although it can develop in people at any age.


Scientists are not certain why SJS develops. The most commonly cited cause of SJS is an adverse allergic drug reaction. Almost any drug—but most particularly sulfa drugs—can cause SJS. The allergic reaction to the drug may not occur until seven to 14 days after first using it. SJS can also be preceded by a viral infection, such as herpes or the mumps, and its accompanying fever, sore throat, and sluggishness.


Treatment for the eye may include any of the following:

  • Artificial tears
  • Antibiotics
  • Corticosteroids

About one-third of all patients diagnosed with SJS have recurrences of the disease.