Understanding the Risks of Using Topical Steroids for Eczema

When considering the use of topical steroids, it's important to know their drawbacks and risks. But topical steroids also have some major benefits for eczema sufferers, when used according to the prescription. It's important that you work with your physician to find and maintain the best treatment for your eczema, whether you're using steroid cream or other methods.

Topical steroids have been used to treat eczema for more than 50 years, and they can have great benefits. Often you'll see a much faster relief of symptoms and for many eczema sufferers, they're an excellent course of treatment. In recent years, patients have started to have apprehensions about using topical steroid treatments. There's a fear of overuse or adverse reactions. 

We don't want to contribute to any exacerbated fear over using a viable treatment option when recommended by a physician. What we want to do here is help you understand the benefits and the possible side effects so that you can discuss your treatment with your physician. Think of this as a primer so you take care to look for signs of adverse reactions and to help you develop a regimen with your doctor. Then you can determine if prescription steroids are right for you or choose to treat eczema using other methods with less side effects. 

About Topical Steroids

Topical steroids have been used to treat eczema and other skin conditions for the past 50 years. They are one of the strongest treatment regimens, so they are widely prescribed and recommended for a reason. Your body naturally produces steroids to aid in immune function and healing — the topical treatment absorbs into your skin and works with your own body's system to help relieve inflammation. 

Topical steroids are ranked by strength. A class 1 topical steroid is the most potent, while a class 7 is the least potent. Topical treatments also come in a variety of options, from lotions and ointments, to sprays. Your doctor may prescribe a specific brand name steroid, or they may indicate that a generic prescription can be substituted. You can check with your insurance carrier whether the prescription is covered under your plan.

Using Topical Steroids to Treat Eczema

Many physicians prescribe topical steroids to treat eczema symptoms. It's important that you follow the prescription instructions and any additional instructions given to you by your physician. You should also discuss any concerns with your doctor before using the treatment and contact them if you see any adverse reactions.

A general guideline to using most topical steroid treatments:

  • Apply After Bathing. Topical steroids absorb into the skin best directly after bathing. If you've been on a routine to apply lotion after a bath, you can substitute your prescription during this time for the areas you're treating.
  • Do Not Over Use. Use your prescription cream exactly as the directions indicate. Using it more frequently can increase your chances of having a reaction to the steroids.
  • Only Use On Eczema Flare Ups. You don't want to use prescription steroids as an overall moisturizer. Only use it sparingly in the areas where you have a flare up. Use moisturizer or eczema moisturizer everywhere else.

Possible Drawbacks to Topical Steroids

Topical steroids do work fast to relieve inflammation, redness, and patchy scaly areas for eczema sufferers. They can often help get a flare up under control and speed healing by a great deal. You will generally not use steroids for a prolonged period, though. They're not a daily treatment option for prolonged use in many cases because the more you use them, the more susceptible you are to side effects. Often your doctor will prescribe topical steroids for a few weeks, simply to get a flare up under control. 

It's very important that you follow your physician's directions in how often you apply your medication and the length of time you'll use it. If the physician states that you should only use your cream for two weeks, but you have some left over, don't continue to use it without contacting your physician first. You also should not share prescription cream because the class you're using may not be the right medication for another person.

Some possible side effects associated with topical steroids:

  • Skin Thinning or Thickening. This might be a temporary condition or it may continue permanently, depending on the person and the level of steroid use.
  • Darker Pigment to the Skin. Darker pigmentation or darkening of the skin may lighten over time.
  • Stretch Marks. Stretch marks are often a permanent side effect, but they do lighten and become less noticeable over time, if the area isn't constantly treated.
  • Acne. Acne in the area is often temporary but it can be very difficult to treat combined with the original eczema outbreak.
  • Vision Issues. Some conditions, such as glaucoma and cataracts, can be associated with overuse of steroids. It is important to schedule regular eye exams if you're using prescription medication.
  • Folliculitus. This happens when the hair follicles become infected and can result in red or pus filled bumps which are uncomfortable.

Other, more serious adverse reactions might include Topical Steroid Withdrawal Syndrome. This is a more serious condition which is caused by overuse of prescription steroid cream. 

It's important to note that the benefits of topical steroids for eczema can far outweigh the side effects. Many adverse reactions can be avoided by following the prescription and physician's directions for use.

Options for a Holistic Approach to Eczema Treatment

Steroids are not always a viable daily treatment option for chronic eczema sufferers. Over using topical steroids can have adverse reactions. For many people with chronic eczema flare-ups, the best model of treatment is a more holistic approach. 

You might use natural moisturizers or ointments made specifically for eczema on a regular basis. You can also pay special attention to allergens that trigger your eczema and invest in clothing that is more gentle for your skin. Topical steroid treatment can be added to your daily regimen by your physician, to calm more severe flare-ups. 

Ultimately, anyone that has to battle eczema on a day-to-day basis should understand that there are a variety of things in their "toolkit" that they use to best calm flare ups, itching, and inflammation. Each tool has its pros and cons. Using those tools properly will lead you on your path to success.

Lastly, a closing note from Eczema Honey: To be fully transparent, while we do our best to highlight a variety of treatment methods including topical steroids, Eczema Honey Co makes products for eczema sufferers using gentle ingredients that can be purchased here on our site. You can shop for our products here and read our customer testimonials here

Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Results may vary.

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