Don’t worry, we’re not talking about the anabolic steroids some athletes and bodybuilders illegally take to enhance performance. Corticosteroids are a completely different type of steroid. These are among the most widely prescribed drugs in the world. And one of the many things they’re used for is treating allergy symptoms. Read on to find out how and why.
Corticosteroids mimic hormones made by your body. They’re anti-inflammatory and help manage conditions caused by an overactive immune system. That includes eczema (atopic dermatitis) and allergic rhinitis caused by hay fever and other allergies – for instance to house dust mites. Corticosteroids are also an important part of managing advanced respiratory illnesses. Using corticosteroids to boost your natural hormone levels can help to ease these symptoms.
Confusingly, corticosteroids are referred to by several names; glucocorticosteroids, glucocorticoids and even just steroids. They also come in different forms and strengths. The local pharmacy can usually sell you the mildest versions over the counter. Otherwise you’ll need to visit your health care provider and get a prescription. Speak to your health care provider or pharmacist before taking corticosteroids.
Topical corticosteroids are designed to treat one specific part of your body. They’re often – but not always – applied externally:
There are also systemic corticosteroids. These are taken internally, as pills or injections, and affect the whole body. Systemic treatments are usually prescribed in more severe cases.
Corticosteroids mimic hormones made by your body. These medicines play a big part in controlling allergy symptoms and many other health conditions.
Hay fever is an allergic reaction to pollen. Your immune system thinks the tiny particles are a threat. It releases histamine as a defense – and this makes the lining of your nose swell up. To you, that feels like a stuffy, itchy or runny nose.
Antihistamines are perhaps the most common treatment. But corticosteroid nasal spray is also a first-in-line option especially when it comes to persistent symptoms. And research has actually shown that for some people combination therapy – using antihistamine and corticosteroid nasal sprays – might be the way to go in dealing with symptoms of hay fever.
Corticosteroid nasal sprays can help ease symptoms of allergies, for example to dust mites, pets and pollen. We’ve put together these top tips to help you use yours as effectively as possible.
Of course, always read the information leaflet and carefully follow the instructions for your corticosteroid nasal spray, as they might differ from these general tips. And if in doubt ask your health care provider or pharmacist.
Most people with advanced respiratory illnesses use a corticosteroid inhaler every day to keep the inflammation of their airways under control. There are two types; to relieve symptoms (reliever/rescue inhalers) and to prevent them in the first place (preventer/controller inhalers). Some corticosteroid inhalers combine the two (combination inhalers). Without them, the life of people withthese conditions would be dramatically different – and very restricted.
Eczema is another chronic condition for which corticosteroids are the main treatment. There’s no cure yet but eczema can improve or even clear completely in some children as they get older. It can show up as small patches of dry cracked skin, but some people are itchy, sore and red all over the body. Eczema is always hard to live with.
Fortunately, corticosteroid creams can help to soothe the skin and control inflammation. Eczema is also known as atopic dermatitis. Many other types of dermatitis and skin rashes respond to corticosteroid creams too.
Also need to know about
Strong corticosteroids are not usually given to young children. Otherwise, steroids are an important part of the treatment for allergic rhinitis and eczema in childhood. Of course there can be side effects, which we’ll talk about next. But if you follow your health care provider’s prescription, and your child’s condition and response is monitored, these medicines can be taken by children. Don’t use corticosteroids for your child without your health care provider’s guidance.
Like any medicine, corticosteroids can cause side effects. And also like any medicine, they come with an information leaflet. Make sure to read it before you start tackling your allergy symptoms.
Corticosteroids can have local or systemic side effects. Systemic means they impact on the whole body. Topical formulations like nasal sprays, inhalers and creams tend to be prescribed before pills or injections because the intended effects are mostly concentrated at one site. So the chances of systemic side effects are much lower. Corticosteroids are usually recommended for use at the lowest effective dose for the shortest possible time.
Corticosteroid nasal sprays, inhalers and topical creams usually cause no significant side effects if used correctly.
Here, we list some of the side effects you could experience. Consult the information leaflet for your medication for specific details.
Local side effects of corticosteroid nasal sprays can include:
Local side effects of corticosteroid inhalers can include:
Local side effects of corticosteroid creams can include:
All corticosteroids can have side effects across your whole body. This goes not only for pills and injections, but also for nasal sprays, inhalers and creams even though they might only be applied to one small area. The chance of systemic side effects goes up with these topical corticosteroids if you use them at a high dose for a long time. Luckily, this is much less common than with tablets.
Always consult the information leaflet for the medication you’re taking for specific side effects.
Systemic side effects of corticosteroids from long-term treatment can include:
What are the symptoms
of allergic rhinitis?
Your health care provider will usually monitor you closely if you, for example, use a corticosteroid inhaler daily. Always talk to them about how to take your medication and don’t stop taking it before your health care provider says it’s safe to do so.
Always speak to your doctor or pharmacist if you’re already on medication and consider using corticosteroids. They can interfere with how other drugs work, and vice versa. You’ll find all these details on the information leaflet that comes with the corticosteroid.
As you can see, corticosteroids play a big part in controlling allergy symptoms. But they have a wider use too. Corticosteroids are prescribed to manage medical conditions including rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and multiple sclerosis. If not a miracle cure, they are certainly a way of improving the lives of a huge number of people.
Corticosteroids as well as other allergy relief meds and control measures may not be able to keep your allergy symptoms in check. If so, your health care provider might discuss allergy immunotherapy with you.
Immunotherapy goes straight to the cause of your allergies. The idea is to desensitize your immune system through very small doses of an allergen given as shots or tablets. Your body gradually learns not to go on high alert each time you encounter the substance in real life. Immunotherapy can help reduce your symptoms and the need for medication to relieve them.