Topical Steroids | Patient
Topical steroids are medicines that are used to treat a large number of conditions that cause inflammation - for example, eczema, psoriasis, hay fever, allergies and certain conditions of the eyes. They work by reducing inflammation and irritation. Topical steroids can be applied to the skin, eyes and nose as well as being inhaled into the lungs or inserted into the rectum. When they are used in the right way they have very few side-effects, and they have far fewer side-effects than steroid tablets oral steroids.
Steroids are hormones that occur naturally in the body. Steroid medicines are man-made and are similar to the natural hormones made in the body. The type of steroids used to treat disease are called corticosteroids.
They are different to the anabolic steroids which some athletes and bodybuilders use. Anabolic steroids have very different effects.
Topical steroids are available as creams, ointments, lotions, suppositories, drops for the eyes, nose and ears , and nose nasal sprays. Steroid inhalers for the lungs are also a type of topical steroid. This leaflet gives an overview of topical steroids, including their main possible side-effects. There are many topical steroids available. These are some of the more commonly used ones in the UK:. You will see that some of these steroids are used in several ways.
For example, hydrocortisone comes in a cream, ear drops and a foam for the rectum. There are many types and brands of topical steroid. They are generally grouped into four categories depending on their strength - mild, moderately potent, potent and very potent. There are various brands and types in each category.
Betamethasone is a stronger more potent commonly used steroid cream. The greater the strength potency , the more effect it has on reducing inflammation but the greater the risk of side-effects with continued use.
Topical steroids are prescribed to treat a large number of conditions. Some of these conditions are listed in the section above. You will see topical steroids can be used to treat problems with the:. Creams are usually best to treat moist or weeping areas of skin. Ointments are usually best to treat areas of skin which are dry or thickened. Lotions may be useful to treat hairy areas such as the scalp. Which strength of topical steroid is prescribed depends upon the condition being treated and how severe the condition is.
For example, if you have severe psoriasis, your doctor may prescribe a strong steroid such as betamethasone. But, if you have a mild skin condition on your face, a weak topical steroid is usually prescribed - for example, hydrocortisone 0. Topical steroid creams are sometimes prescribed as a combined cream together with another ingredient. For example if your inflamed skin has an infection with germs which are bacteria, the steroid cream may also contain an antibacterial medicine.
It is usually combined with an antibacterial medicine called fucidic acid. If your inflamed skin has an infection with a yeast fungus , the steroid cream may also contain an antifungal medicine. Common antifungal medicines used are clotrimazole and miconazole.
How often topical steroids are applied will depend upon the condition you have and how severe it is. For most conditions, topical steroids are normally applied or used once or twice a day.
For example, people who have eczema or psoriasis usually apply their steroid creams or ointments once or twice a day. Some topical steroids can be applied more often. For example, dexamethasone eye drops are usually applied times a day if you have inflammation of the eye.
Most doctors prefer to prescribe topical steroids for as short a period of time as possible, in particular those applied to the skin. Strong topical steroids are normally not used for much longer than one week.
This is because topical steroids can have a number of side-effects. However, the length of treatment normally depends on the condition being treated and how severe the condition is. Some people need to use topical steroids in the long term for example, steroid nose nasal sprays for allergies.
Other people may only need to use them for a week or so for example, for mild dermatitis. Some people need to use them for months for example, a cream for psoriasis or a spray for hay fever.
Your doctor will explain when they prescribe the topical steroid. If you use a strong topical steroid for a long period of time you will usually need to reduce the amount you use over a period of weeks and then stop. For example, if you have been using a potent steroid cream to treat psoriasis.
This is because when it is stopped suddenly your condition may come back quickly. If topical steroids have only been used for a short time they can usually be stopped abruptly.
You can buy some topical corticosteroids "over-the-counter" without a prescription. Do not apply this to your face unless your doctor has told you to do so. This is because it may trigger a skin condition affecting the face acne or rosacea.
Long-term use may also damage the skin. On your face this would be more noticeable than the rest of your body. So usually only weak steroids are used on the face. Those which are suitable are prescription-only. You can also buy some steroid nose nasal sprays to treat hay fever - for example, beclometasone nasal spray and fluticasone nasal spray.
Most people who use topical steroids have no side effects, or very few. How likely you are to have side-effects depends on how long you use the medicine for, how much is used or applied and how strong the steroid is. It is not possible to list all the side-effects here. However, listed below are some of the more common and important ones. For a full list of side-effects see the leaflet that comes with your medicine. Even with topical steroids, some of the medicine gets through the skin and into the bloodstream.
The amount is usually small and causes no problems unless strong topical steroids are used regularly on large areas of the skin. The main concern is with children who need frequent courses of strong topical steroids. The steroid can have an effect on growth. Therefore, children who need repeated courses of strong topical steroids should have their growth monitored. If you think you have had a side-effect to one of your medicines you can report this on the Yellow Card Scheme.
You can do this online at www. The Yellow Card Scheme is used to make pharmacists, doctors and nurses aware of any new side-effects that medicines or any other healthcare products may have caused.
If you wish to report a side-effect, you will need to provide basic information about:. Did you find this information useful? My four months year old has dermatitis and his skin be irritating him and itches additionally on his elbows they are scaly and one side has tiny signs of clear puss seeping thru. This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions.
In this article arrow-down What are topical steroids? What types of topical steroids are there? When are topical steroids prescribed? Which topical steroid is usually prescribed? How often are topical steroids usually applied? What is the usual length of treatment? Stopping topical corticosteroids Can you buy topical corticosteroids? What are the side-effects of topical steroids? What are topical steroids? Topical steroids work by: Reducing redness and swelling inflammation in the part of the body they are applied to Suppressing the body's immune system.
Stopping cells from multiplying. Reversing enlargement of blood vessels in the area they are applied to. They cause a narrowing of the blood vessels. How to use the Yellow Card Scheme If you think you have had a side-effect to one of your medicines you can report this on the Yellow Card Scheme. If you wish to report a side-effect, you will need to provide basic information about: