What are corticosteroids?
The human adrenal gland produces corticosteroid hormones. These hormones control or influence many important bodily functions. They are involved in suppressing the body's inflammatory responses and immune response as well as the metabolism of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins.
When synthesized as medicines, corticosteroids are used mostly for their effectiveness in controlling inflammation. Corticosteroids can be can be taken orally or inhaled; they can be administered by injection, suppository or intravenously; they can also be applied topically.
What are topical corticosteroids?
Topical corticosteroids are a form of corticosteroid that can be applied externally to the skin or scalp of a patient to control dermatologic inflammatory symptoms. Several different bases are used as a delivery vehicle. Topical corticosteroids are supplied in creams, lotions, gels, liquids, ointments, pastes, powders, and scalp preparations such as shampoo.
What are topical corticosteroids used for?
Corticosteroids are used to suppress the body's various inflammatory responses. Topical corticosteroids are used to reduce the inflammatory symptoms of skin disorders. These symptoms include itching, redness and thickening of the skin. Topical corticosteroids are used to treat many dermatological conditions but do not work for all. They are commonly used to treat the symptoms of rashes, dermatitis, and eczema.
It should be noted that corticosteroids cannot cure a condition because they do not treat its underlying cause. However, they are very useful in relieving symptoms and controlling flare-ups. This is important in preventing secondary infections that can occur when untreated itching results in excessive scratching.
How do topical corticosteroids work?
Topical corticosteroids are absorbed into the skin. Once in the skin cells they reduce the cells' production of chemicals that cause inflammation. They reduce redness and swelling by causing the constriction of capillaries. Finally, topical corticosteroids alter some of the functions of cells that are part of the body's immune system.
What kind of topical corticosteroid should you use?
Different strengths of topical corticosteroids are available and appropriate for different conditions and parts of the body. Weaker potency medications should be used where the skin is sensitive, as on the face or groin. Stronger formulas are used on the thicker skinned areas of the knees or elbows. The stronger potency formulas will generally work better, but they also have a higher risk of side effects. Therefore, it is recommended to start with a weaker potency to see if it will be adequate to address the symptoms
Some of the skin disorders that are treated with corticosteroids leave the skin dry and thickened. These respond best to a topical corticosteroid delivered in an ointment. If the area to be treated is weeping or moist, a cream application may work well. Use a lotion in areas that it is difficult to get the medication to, like the hairy areas of the scalp or groin.
Sometimes there area being treated is also infected. In these cases it may be useful to use a formula that contains an antibiotic. Care must be taken to watch for an allergic reaction to the antibiotic that could be masked by the steroid.
What are the side effects of topical corticosteroids?
Topical corticosteroids can cause several local side effects. They can cause contact dermatitis, thinning of the skin, stretch marks in the skin, The skin can become fragile, leading to easy bruising and tearing. They may cause an increased risk of secondary infections and existing wounds may heal more slowly because of the effect of steroids on the immune system.
With long term use, topical corticosteriods my become less effective.
In addition to localized side effects, stronger potencies or long term use can occasionally lead to systemic side effects. Long term users of topical steroids should be monitored by a health care provider.
Corticosteroids are not the same as anabolic steroids.
Anabolic steroids are a synthesized form of hormones that are related to testosterone (the male sex hormone). There are legitimate medical uses of anabolic steroids but they are also commonly abused, especially by some athletes and body builders. Typically, anabolic steroids are simply called steroids. Corticosteroids are also sometimes referred to as steroids. They are different substances and their use and effects should not be confused.