Overview of corticosteroids
Corticosteroids are a form of steroids used to treat swelling and inflammation from allergies, as well as allergic asthma. They’re often referred to as steroids, but they’re not the same types of products abused by some athletes. Corticosteroids may be used for a range of allergies. They may be taken for a short-term or a long-term basis, depending on the severity of your condition.
These drugs are primarily used for ongoing illnesses. They’re especially useful for treating inflammation, a long-term underlying effect of many conditions like allergies. Corticosteroids mimic the effects of cortisol, which is a stress hormone. Your adrenal glands excrete it to help your body minimize the effects of inflammation and other patterns related to stress.
Doctors typically prescribe this medication in either a nasal or oral form for allergies. While inhaled and injected forms are available, they aren’t typically used for allergies. Read on to learn more about the differences between nasal and oral corticosteroids, and how to determine which is best for your condition.
You have a greater chance of developing congestion if your nose is inflamed from allergies. Nasal corticosteroids relieve congestion by decreasing the inflammation in your nose. Unlike inhaled corticosteroids used for asthma, nasal versions are sprayed directly into the nasal passages.
Nasal corticosteroids are commonly available in spray form. They’re also available as aerosol liquids and powders.
Nasal corticosteroids provide relief from congestion. Unlike over-the-counter nasal sprays, nasal corticosteroids aren’t addictive. You can use them without your body becoming used to them. On the other hand, it can take up to three weeks for you to start feeling the full benefits.
Side effects of nasal corticosteroids
The most common side effect of nasal corticosteroids is irritation of your nose or throat. These medications might also cause dryness in your nose.
These drugs rarely cause major side effects. However, if you experience any of the following symptoms, call your doctor right away:
- nose bleeds or sores
- vision changes
- breathing difficulties
- swelling of your face
- eye pain
Risks of nasal corticosteroids
One major risk of nasal corticosteroids is that they can sometimes make asthma symptoms worse. You may want to consider using a different type of product if you have allergic asthma. You should also check with your doctor if you have a history of:
- nose injuries
- surgeries on your nose
- nose sores
- heart attack
- liver disease
- type 2 diabetes
- underactive thyroid, or hypothyroidism
Certain types of steroids are also not recommended for use in pregnant women and women who are nursing.
Oral corticosteroids have the same primary purpose as their nasal counterparts. They reduce inflammation. These steroids can reduce inflammation all over your body rather than in one specific area. This is why they can be used for a range of allergic reactions, including severe pollen allergies and skin allergies, such as eczema.
Tablets are among the most common forms of these drugs, but they’re also available as syrups. This is beneficial for pediatric and geriatric patients who may not be able to swallow pills easily.
Due to their powerful nature, oral corticosteroids are generally used for a short period. Long-term use of these drugs can increase your risk of side effects.
Side effects of oral corticosteroids
Some of the side effects of oral corticosteroids are similar to nasal versions. However, medications taken by mouth tend to have a wider range of potential adverse effects. These include:
- vision changes
- increased blood pressure
- appetite changes
- water retention
- muscle weakness
- joint pain
- decreased immunity
Some of these side effects go away on their own. However, you should tell your doctor about any reaction to oral corticosteroids to prevent further complications.
Risks of oral corticosteroids
Oral corticosteroids are more effective overall than their nasal versions because they focus on more than one area of your body. However, the risk of side effects is higher in oral corticosteroids. This is because they have a higher concentration. The risk is even higher if you take a high dose over a long period of time.
Your doctor will likely start you off with the lowest dose possible to reduce your risks. You might receive a larger dose if more medication is necessary. Never take more than the recommended dose. This can lead to potentially life-threatening consequences.
Corticosteroids are among the many types of medications available for the treatment of allergies. Inhaled corticosteroids may be used for asthma. However, they aren’t used to treat all cases of allergic asthma. Talk to your doctor about which option might be best for you.
Although they’re used for chronic diseases like allergies, corticosteroids can become dangerous when used for a long time. This is why your doctor will closely monitor your condition and your symptoms, and lower the dose when needed. Discuss any past reactions to steroid medications with your doctor. Tell them about any family history of issues from taking this medication. This can help avoid the potential for dangerous side effects.
Corticosteroids cause allergic reactions in some people. While it’s rare, an allergic reaction to corticosteroids can be life-threatening. Call 911 right away if you experience breathing difficulties, swelling, or extreme feelings of fatigue.
Corticosteroids and Children Q&A
Can nasal corticosteroids be used to treat children with allergies?
Yes, but they’re not for infants. There is both pediatric and adolescent dosing for nasal corticosteroids. These sprays are now available over the counter. Make sure to read the dosing instructions carefully or consult with your pharmacist before using.Mark Laflamme, M.D.Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.