Oral steroids or injectable steroids are potent anti-inflammatory medications. They work by turning off the body’s production of mediators that cause inflammation and subsequent symptoms of swelling, irritation, itching and pain. Common conditions that require the use of oral or injectable steroids include asthma, moderate to severe allergic reactions, including allergic rhinoconjunctivitis and hives, as well as severe sinus conditions and skin reactions. They are strong medications that usually start working within hours to days.
It is important that you take these medications exactly how your physician prescribes them. They are most often given for periods of several days to two weeks, but some patients may require longer courses. If taken for longer than a week or two, your physician will likely recommend a weaning schedule. This schedule will instruct you or your child to take a gradually smaller dose each day to allow your body to gradually wean off the medication. Steroids can be given as an injection or administered in tablet or liquid forms.
The most common corticosteroids prescribed are prednisone and methylprednisolone.
Oral or injectable steroids that are prescribed by physicians treating allergies or asthma are not related to performance enhancing medications (anabolic steroids) used by athletes or body builders.
Despite rumors to the contrary, steroids are safe medications when taken for short periods of time. They can also be used safely on a recurrent basis, although your allergist will monitor the amount of steroids prescribed and will try to minimize their use.
Steroids can have both short and long term side effects. Short term side effects can include, but are not limited to, increased appetite, weight gain or fluid retention (usually temporary), red or flushed cheeks, mood changes and irritability, stomachache, and possibly temporary elevations of blood pressure or blood sugar levels.
If it is recommended that you or your child need to be on long term, daily corticosteroids, your physician will discuss with you the benefits and risks of long term use. Long term side effects can include, but are not limited to: weight gain, osteoporosis, fractures of the bones, cataracts, increased intra ocular pressure or glaucoma. Patients on long term steroids (months to years) may experience easy bruising, thinness of the skin, hair growth and increased blood pressure.
Since steroids can temporarily lower your resistance to infections, they should be avoided, or minimized, with known infections such as chicken pox, shingles, or influenza.
In general, oral steroids should be taken with meals to minimize any stomach discomfort.