Allergies and skin rash are common adverse reactions to drugs. But they rarely considered serious. Patients and doctors alike may brush off such symptoms as a minor annoyance. In too many cases, though, skin reactions can be life threatening.

A surprising number of medications can cause Stevens Johnson Syndrome, erythema multiforme (EM) or Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis (TEN). For some a mild rash may begin within hours of starting a new drug. Others may not notice any symptoms for several weeks. A fever and sore throat may develop and lesions can start to appear in the mouth, eyes, digestive tract and lungs.

If the drug isn’t stopped at the first sign of trouble, the skin can literally peel away from the body. This can lead to severe infection, which explains why Stevens Johnson Syndrome can be lethal.

With all the attention recently given to heart attacks caused by Vioxx or possibly Celebrex, the black box warning FDA issued for a similar pain reliever called Bextra has been largely overlooked. It cautions that patients should be alerted to discontinue the drug at the first sign of a skin rash or allergic reaction.

But even when patients stop their medicine immediately, the aftermath can be unbearable. One reader shared his experience:

“I had an allergic reaction to Bextra after two weeks of use for back pain. I immediately stopped the medication when I developed a whole body rash and intense itching. I experienced extreme external feelings of cold, yet there was a simultaneous burning sensation from inside. My skin sloughed off my entire body.

“The allergic reaction happened in early June. A local dermatologist administered cortisone injections with little or no improvement. In November I was prescribed 30 days of prednisone in pill form. This stopped the sloughing of skin, and the chilling and burning was diminished, but not the itching.

“I was given a powerful immune suppressing drug for organ transplant patients called cyclosporine. So far, the problem with the intense itching continues.”

This patient was so desperate that he mentioned to a friend that he was considering suicide to end the misery.

Hundreds of drugs can cause allergic skin reactions. Anti-inflammatory arthritis drugs are known for this type of complication. Many antibiotics can also trigger severe itching and rash. Even over-the-counter remedies like Motrin or Tagamet HB can occasionally set off a serious skin reaction.

Cholesterol-lowering medications are now widely prescribed and can prompt such a complication in some people:

“Three years ago, my doctor prescribed Lipitor. After three months on this drug, I developed a rash all over my body that required a trip to a dermatologist. He took one look at my itchy hide and asked if I was on Lipitor. When I said yes, he said ‘GET OFF!’ My physician switched me to another cholesterol fighter, but the rash is just now starting to go away.”

Allergic skin reactions should never be taken lightly. Some people develop a rash suddenly while other may go weeks or even months on a medication before experiencing problems. Immediate treatment is necessary because sometimes skin complications can be deadly.

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  1. Scott

    I have been dealing with a full body rash for almost 2 years, somewhat on and off. My doctor started me on Lipitor instead of Lovastatin, and probably about 6 months later the rash began, and progressively got worse, to the point where my skin literally felt like it was on fire, and for several nights I couldn’t sleep at all.

    My doctors and I didn’t immediately make the connection to the Lipitor and tried other changes. I did wind up going back to Lovastatin, and I believe within 4-5 months the rash had completely gone.

    Since we didn’t know if other measures had been the remedy that made the rash subside, I resumed Lipitor at doctor’s urging, and within 4-5 months the rash is back and raging worse than before.

    I have now come to conclusion Lipitor must be the cause and have been off it for 3 months, but frankly not a lot of change. My doctor currently has me on Hydroxyzine, and I’m in my second 15 day course of Prednisone (oral Cortizone) which has been a godsend, but is a temporary inflammation suppresent.

    I’m holding out hope that removing the Lipitor will resolve this over the coming months.

  2. suzanne

    I have been taking rosuvestatin for about a year, and the dr just upped my dose about a month ago. I got a red rash on my ankles, and my skin feels shiny and stiff. Also keep getting rashes on my arms and hips. At first I thought it was the premarin he put me on, but I have not had that for 2 days and just got the itching on my arms after taking the rosuvestatin. Think I am going to stop both meds.

  3. Barbara
    Spring Grove, PA

    I stopped Lipitor in May 2018 because of hip pain and a rash… small red dots that itch . Hip pain went away but still have the rash. I had been on Lipitor for years! I am now on an antihistamine and a cream from my dermatologist…3 months later and I still have the rash…. can anyone relate to this?

  4. Carol

    My skin was just biopsied with an “unusual constellation of findings” from a biopsy of a rash that started after beginning Atorvastatin. This biopsy noticed an “unusual drug eruption or viral syndrome”. There it is. A diagnosis by two skin doctors “after multiple levels examined” found a drug reaction I never dreamed was a possibility. This itching and eruptions on my face, mouth, neck, chest, and underarms was a drug reaction! My first!

    I stopped taking the statin and my skin now is beginning to clear as the intensity of the itching is decreasing. I wish I had been given warning by my usually very effective doctor.

    I usually read the full description and possible side effects of any new drug I take, but this one slipped past me. I have suffered for many days thinking it was just a typical contact dermatitis problem. Get to the doctor who prescribed the statin immediately–don’t do as I did and go to a dermatologist.

  5. Victor

    After hospital stay related to huge blood clot length of one leg, doctor changed two prescriptions: increased generic Lipitor from 20 mg to 40 mg and; and put me on Warfarin. Ever since I have itched all over my body. Primary Care prescribed a prescription antihistamine to counteract the apparent drug react reaction. But the antihistamine is not doing the job. The problem is when one takes more than one prescription it can be hard to diagnose the culprit. Given the immediate clot problem, it would appear, I need to focus on generic Lipitor by eliminating it for a while.

  6. sammy

    I started seeing a rash on my upper body after taking a statin drug. I called my doctor, and he said maybe not. The rash did not go away, and I stopped taking the statin drug. The rash did not go away but did not spread any more. But even after stopping the statin drug, the rash still appeared. I decided to take another statin drug (Lipitor) because cholesterol is a serious issue for me. Now, my rash really picked up and spread all over the body. After about a month, I stopped taking it. Again, the rash stopped spreading but did not go away. It’s been more than a month, and I still have rash, especially when my body heats up such as taking a walk, or bath. After about 30 minutes, it usually disappears. Unfortunately, the lesson I learned is don’t blindly trust your doctor. I still do not know how to treat my rash.

    • Karen P.
      San Antonio, Texas

      Yes. The same thing is happening to me. My PCP started me on three new medications all at the same time. One of them is Atorvastatin, one is Xigduo, and the third is Buspirone. I’m already on Nadolol for portal hypertension because I have end-stage liver disease. I’ve been on that for a while. I also had to see a podiatrist and was put on a drug from the ibuprofen family, he said. I’m not even supposed to take anything like that because of my liver. I’m at the point where I just want to stop all medication, and let nature take its course.

      I have a rash all over my body that I thought might be fungal because of the Xigduo. But now I’m wondering if it’s an allergic reaction and if it is, what exactly I’m allergic to? I know I’m allergic to sulfa. That gives me a high fever and a painful rash like I’ve been rolling in Cactus. I have a combination of a little bit of itchiness but mostly pinprick feelings on my skin without the pain of a pin prick. I’m going to do a detox of my digestive tract. I pray to God that I’m not allergic to either one of the detox substances. I am so tired of all this. I don’t want to take anything anymore.

  7. kathryn

    I WAS ON ATORVASTATIN FOR ALMOST 2 WEEKS!!!!! Started having a overall feeling of not feeling well, like the flu, fever, chills, sore muscles hard to get up and down, then came the rash and terrible itching!! saw my doctor and now taking prednisone{my 2nd day]will take for 6 days total. redness pretty much gone , but still have the terrible itching, hard to sleep, but hoping after 6 days it will be better. this is a horrendous drug will never take it again!!!!!!! kat f. from calif

  8. stef

    About 2 weeks after starting Lipitor, I developed a mild rash on my upper arms. I waited a couple of days then called my doctor. I was not able to connect with my doctor or her nurse, so they connected me with the pharmacist. She told me rashes caused by Lipitor were rare and not to worry. Not sure what to do now, still no word from the doctor and the rash is spreading and starting to itch..

  9. cami
    south florida

    My doctor prescribed me atorvastatin and since the first day I noticed something strange in my body. I thought it was a mosquito bite. It even looked like it and I am a person who loves being around flowers and plants. But, the rash continued to spread. I bought a special body wash. I called my doctor’s office from where still now I have NO answer at all.It has been ten days now, it started to look like herpes zoster so I contacted a pharmacist online on Walgreens web page and thanks God I did. He told me to stop the medication, see my doctor and use some antihistamine and some pain relieving cream or lotion. I did that last night, the rash still hurts but it looks like it stopped spreading. Of course, I have to start looking for another doctor. I wished they had called me back and at least had given me the chance to see the nurse. I was going to pay, I was not begging for attention.

  10. Jim

    I was prescribed Lipitor for “controlling cholesterol” Within 5 days I had a large red spot on my leg and it became obvious it was a rash of some sort. I stopped taking Lipitor 20 mg after 7 days. This rash has continued to spread to my right leg, left and right arms and most recently my chest and back. Statins are poison and Lipitor leads the parade. These rashes have done serious damage to my skin and the last pill I took was well over a month ago.

  11. James B.
    United States

    Just came from Allergist’s office. Presented with pretty much full body rash. They immediately focused on Lipitor or and told me to get off it for a month…. we’ll see if they’re correct.

    • Gina

      I was on Crestor for cholesterol and then it went to generic – Rosuvastatin in Aug. 2016. After taking it for 1 year, I broke out in a rash and all over body itching in Aug. 2017. Got off and it began to get better. Dr. changed me to Atorvastatin (Lipitor generic). In 9 days, terrible rash and body itching from head to literally tip of my toes. I’m trying to investigate which inactive ingredient I might be allergic to. I’m wondering what on earth will they put me on next to lower my cholesterol. Any advice from anyone with the same issue?

    • Gina

      Hi James. Did you ever find out what caused your full-body rash?

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