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Oral Corticosteroids for Atopic Dermatitis

Examples

Generic Name Brand Name
hydrocortisone Cortef
methylprednisolone Medrol
prednisolone Pediapred, Prelone
prednisone  

How It Works

Corticosteroids are similar to natural substances the body produces to help reduce inflammation and itching. For atopic dermatitis, corticosteroids reduce inflammation, itching, and thickening of the skin (lichenification).

Why It Is Used

Oral corticosteroids are generally not recommended for controlling atopic dermatitis. They are used only for severe cases of atopic dermatitis or when topical agents (creams and ointments) and antihistamines have not worked.

How Well It Works

Oral corticosteroids are often effective in reducing inflammation and itching. A high initial dose usually gets rid of the rash quickly.

Side Effects

All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.

Here are some important things to think about:

  • Usually the benefits of the medicine are more important than any minor side effects.
  • Side effects may go away after you take the medicine for a while.
  • If side effects still bother you and you wonder if you should keep taking the medicine, call your doctor. He or she may be able to lower your dose or change your medicine. Do not suddenly quit taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to.

Call 911 or other emergency services right away if you have:

  • Trouble breathing.
  • Swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.

Call your doctor if you have:

  • Hives.
  • Signs of an infection, such as a sore throat, fever, sneezing, or coughing.
  • Belly pain, nausea, or vomiting that won't go away.
  • Bloody or black, tarry stools.
  • Rapid weight gain.
  • Changes in your eyes, including blurred vision or eye pain.
  • Muscle cramps, pain, or weakness.
  • Changes in skin, including acne or reddish purple lines.
  • Increased thirst, especially with frequent urination.

Common side effects of this medicine include:

  • Increased appetite.
  • Nervousness or restlessness.
  • Headache.
  • Indigestion.
  • Increased risk of infection.

Side effects from long-term use can include:

  • Cataracts, cloudy areas in the lens of the eye.
  • Osteoporosis, a progressive disease that causes bones to become thin and porous, increasing the risk for vertebrae and hip fractures.
  • Diabetes, a disease in which the body either does not produce or is unable to use insulin properly.
  • Cushing's syndrome, a disorder caused by excessive amounts of the hormone cortisol in the blood.
  • Avascular necrosis (osteonecrosis), a decrease or stoppage of blood to tissue, especially to one hip.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

Corticosteroids are usually used in combination with preventive measures, such as moisturizing your skin and avoiding skin irritants.

Taking medicine

Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.

There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.

Advice for women

Women who use this medicine during pregnancy have a slightly higher chance of having a baby with birth defects. If you are pregnant or planning to get pregnant, you and your doctor must weigh the risks of using this medicine against the risks of not treating your condition.

Checkups

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF)new medication information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Amy McMichael, MD - Dermatology
Last Revised April 17, 2012

Last Revised: April 17, 2012

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