Inhaled steroids, also called corticosteroids, reduce inflammation in the lungs. They’re used to treat asthma and other respiratory conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

These steroids are hormones that are produced naturally in the body. They’re not the same as anabolic steroids, which some people use to build muscle.

To use the steroids, breathe in slowly while pressing on the canister attached to your inhaler. This will direct the medicine right into your lungs. Your doctor will advise you to use the inhaler every day.

Inhaled steroids are often used for long-term treatment. They help prevent future asthma attacks by keeping the lungs healthy and relaxed. Inhaled steroids are also sometimes used along with oral steroids.

The most common inhaled steroids are listed below:

Brand name Ingredient name
Asmanex mometasone
Alvesco ciclesonide
Flovent fluticasone
Pulmicort budesonide
Qvar beclomethasone HFA

Some people with asthma use combination inhalers. Along with steroids, the combination inhalers contain bronchodilators. These target the muscles around your airways to help them relax.

The most common combination inhalers are listed below:

Brand name Ingredient name
Combivent Respimat albuterol and ipratropium bromide
Advair Diskus fluticasone-salmeterol
Symbicort budesonide-formoterol
Trelegy Ellipta fluticasone-umeclidinium-vilanterol
Breo Ellipta fluticasone-vilanterol
Dulera mometasone-formoterol

Inhaled steroids reduce inflammation in the lungs, allowing you to breathe better. In some cases, they also reduce the production of mucus.

It can take a few weeks to see results from inhaled steroids. They can’t be used to treat asthma attacks right when they happen, but they can prevent future attacks. In many cases, the longer you use the steroids, the less you will have to rely on a rescue inhaler.

Inhaled steroids are corticosteroids. They are similar to cortisol, which is a hormone that’s produced naturally in the body. Every morning, the adrenal glands release cortisol in the bloodstream, which gives you energy.

Inhaled steroids work the same as cortisol. Your body can’t tell whether the cortisol is coming from your body or from an inhaler, so the benefits are the same.

Side effects are generally mild with inhaled steroids, which is why doctors often prescribe them for use. In most cases, the benefits of the steroids outweigh any possible side effects.

Common side effects of inhaled steroids include:

  • hoarseness
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • oral thrush

While there’s conflicting evidence, studies have shown that inhaled steroids can stunt growth in children.

If you’re taking a high dose or have used inhaled steroids for a long time, you may experience weight gain due to an increase in appetite.

Those who take inhaled steroids for long-term management have an increased risk of developing pneumonia.

Generally, inhaled steroids have very few side effects because the medicine goes directly into the lungs.

Oral thrush

Oral thrush is a common side effect of inhaled steroids. Thrush occurs when a yeast infection grows in your mouth or throat, and a white film appears on your tongue.

Other symptoms of oral thrush include:

  • bumps on your tongue, cheek, tonsils, or gums
  • bleeding if the bumps are scraped
  • localized pain on the bumps
  • trouble swallowing
  • cracked and dry skin on the corners of your mouth
  • a bad taste in your mouth

To prevent oral thrush, doctors recommend that you rinse your mouth with water right after taking the steroids. Using a spacer device with your inhaler can also help.

Spacers shouldn’t be used with:

  • Advair Diskus
  • Asmanex Twisthaler
  • Pulmicort Flexhaler

If you develop thrush, call your doctor for treatment. They will most likely prescribe an oral antifungal treatment, which may be in the form of a tablet, lozenge, or mouthwash. With medication, your oral thrush will likely resolve in about two weeks.

Oral steroids

Oral steroids, taken either in pill or liquid form, have additional side effects. This is because the medicine is carried throughout the body.

With oral steroids, you may experience:

  • mood swings
  • water retention
  • swelling in your hands and feet
  • high blood pressure
  • change in appetite

When taken for long periods of time, the oral steroids can cause:

While inhaled steroids are fairly easy to use, your healthcare provider can make sure you’re following the proper technique.

The best practices below will help you avoid oral thrush and keep your asthma symptoms from returning.

  • Use your inhaled steroids every day, even if you’re not experiencing asthma symptoms.
  • Use a spacer device with a metered dose, if instructed to do so by your doctor.
  • Rinse your mouth with water immediately after using the inhaler.
  • See your doctor if you develop oral thrush.

If you no longer need the same level of steroids, your doctor can adjust your dose. Lowering the dose or going off the steroids should be done slowly.

The costs for inhaled steroids vary from year to year and are largely based on your insurance. A quick search on GoodRx.com shows that the out-of-pocket costs range from about $200 to $400.

Check with your insurance provider to see what they cover. If you need help paying for your asthma medications, you may be able to enroll in a patient assistance program offered by a nonprofit organization or a pharmaceutical company.

It’s very common for doctors to prescribe inhaled steroids for people with asthma and other respiratory conditions. The use of inhaled steroids can reduce the number of asthma attacks and trips to the hospital for asthma-related incidences.

The steroids are relatively safe and cause minimal side effects, which can be tolerated or treated. They can be used for long-term relief.

The inhaled steroids mimic cortisol, which is produced naturally in the body. The body benefits from these steroids in the same manner as natural cortisol.

If you develop thrush, or experience other troublesome side effects, see your doctor for treatment.