Eczema is a group of skin disorders that cause inflammation, itching, and a rash-like appearance. While eczema is a chronic condition, it is treatable.
One of these treatments is steroid cream. Though not a cure, steroid cream can help relieve symptoms and ease inflammation and redness.
Learn more about how steroid cream is used to treat eczema.
Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a common skin condition. It is characterized by patches of inflamed and itchy skin.
It’s common in both children and adults. There are various types of eczema, but all types include symptoms like:
- dry and scaly skin
Eczema is not contagious and can occur anywhere on the body.
Topical steroid creams, also called topical corticosteroids, are one of the most commonly prescribed treatments for eczema. These creams help reduce inflammation and itching, allowing the skin to begin the healing process.
There are different types of steroid creams, classified from the most potent (Class 1) to least potent (Class 7). There are a variety of steroid types, concentrations, and dosages.
All steroid creams are used on the outside of the body only and should never be swallowed or placed inside the body. These creams are meant to be applied directly to an eczema rash.
Follow your doctor’s instructions or directions on the steroid cream packaging for how much to apply and how often to use steroid cream for eczema. Speak to a healthcare professional or your pharmacist if you have questions about using steroid creams.
There are many different types of steroid creams that can be used to treat your eczema. Before using any on your eczema — even over-the-counter (OTC) creams — talk with your doctor about which ones might be best for your situation. Not everyone will respond or react to steroid creams in the same way.
Children often use two types of steroid creams: for mild cases, you can use an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream. For more severe itching, a prescription cream like Synalar may be prescribed.
Different steroid creams used to treat eczema may include:
OTC topical creams
There are several OTC creams you can use to treat eczema. Topical hydrocortisones can be bought without a prescription. These are low strength and help to reduce irritation and inflammation. These creams are usually used one to four times a day, for up to 7 days.
Common creams include:
- diphenhydramine (Benadryl, Banophen)
- hydrocortisone (many different brands)
Topical prescription steroids
Prescription steroids can help reduce inflammation and lessen itching, allowing the skin to heal. They come in a variety of strengths and your doctor will choose the one they feel is most appropriate for your condition and the severity of your eczema. Prescription steroid creams can include:
- mometasone furoate (Elocon ointment)
- fluticasone (Cutivate)
- amcinonide (Cyclocort)
- betamethasone dipropionate (Betanate)
- triamcinolone acetonide (Kenalog)
Best steroid creams for children with eczema
Eczema can occur in children, and it’s a chronic condition. More than 10 percent of children have eczema; it’s the most common skin condition of children under 10 years old.
Typically, two types of steroid creams are used for kids: over-the-counter, 1 percent hydrocortisone cream or a stronger steroid cream prescribed by your child’s doctor.
Your doctor will tell you how to best care for your child’s eczema and will prescribe the most appropriate cream if necessary.
As with any medical treatment, there may be side effects to using steroid creams. Side effects can be local, affecting a specific spot on the body, or systemic, affecting the entire body. Side effects will depend on the strength of the steroid and where it’s used.
Systemic reactions are rare because the skin doesn’t usually absorb enough medication to cause a significant reaction; however, they can happen. If side effects do occur, they are often related to topical steroid use over a longer period of time and on areas of the body where the skin is thinner, such as on the face. Skin also thins as you get older.
Local side effects of steroid cream may include:
- allergic reaction
- skin atrophy
- bruising more easily
- stretch marks
- perioral dermatitis (facial rash usually occurring around the mouth)
- purpura (bursting of small blood vessels, creating purple spots on the skin)
- premature skin aging
Less common side effects can include:
- pigment alteration
- delayed wound healing
When systemic side effects occur, they may include:
- Cushing’s syndrome – weight gain and other related symptoms
- hypertension – high blood pressure
- hyperglycemia – high blood sugar
- hypothalamic-pituitary axis suppression (adrenal fatigue) – uncommon but possible in children, this condition affects the body’s ability to make hormones like various steriods
Even over-the-counter steroids (hydrocortisone creams) can have side effects. Common ones include:
- dry or cracked skin
- change in skin color
Topical steroid creams are among the most commonly used eczema treatments. These creams are available both over the counter in low dosages, and as prescription-only creams, which tend to be stronger.
When using steroid creams, follow either the instructions on the package or your doctor’s instructions. Do not use the creams for longer than recommended. If you have side effects, call your doctor.