Steroids and Long Term Side Effects

If you are a long term sufferer of eczema, you are no doubt very familiar with topical steroids. Sometimes, despite your best efforts to keep your skin clean and intensely hydrated, your eczema still flares up leaving you with red, itchy and painful skin. Typically, doctors prescribe a topical corticosteroid to help with temporary relief of these symptoms. For many eczema patients, these are the first relief they reach for, but what are the side of over-using these?

Let’s start with the basics, topical steroids are classified by strength on a scale of 1 to 7, with 1 being the strongest and 7 being the weakest. For example, Cortaid and other over-the-counter hydrocortisone creams and ointments belong to class 7, which is “least potent.” The National Eczema Foundation (link to site) offers detailed information of various medication and steroids for eczema. Talking to your doctor and knowing the strength for you is an important factor. The goal is to minimize topical steroid exposure over the long term.

Many experts advise against the long-term use of topical steroids. With prolonged or overuse of topical steroid, a variety of complications may occur. Some common side effects are:

• Skin thinning (most common) – can be reversible • Skin thickening • Darkened skin where the topical has been applied • Stretch marks • Small broken blood vessels
• Rosacea • Increased hair growth where the skin is being treated

You should also speak to your doctor on certain sensitive areas to use the topical steroid. Not all skin on your body are created equal and some areas may be more prone to seeing complications than others. In more severe cases of prolonged use, the side effects becomes more than just localized, it can becomes systemic – meaning that the topical steroid affects more than just the exposed skin areas, it affects the entire body and its functions. Possible and less common systemic side effects of topical steroids are: cataracts, glaucoma, osteoporosis, neuropsychiatric effects, muscle weakness, and diabetes.

Before you run out and throw away all your topical steroid creams though, we encourage you to look for alternative and more natural products to see how your skin condition responds. Again, the most important piece is to work with your physician and address problems promptly.

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