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How Effective Are Corticosteroids for Eczema?

By H. Lo
Updated Feb 11, 2024
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Corticosteroids are very effective at relieving symptoms of eczema but will not cure the condition itself. In general, corticosteroids treat inflammation, and since one of the major characteristics of eczema is inflamed skin, using corticosteroids for eczema treatment is a viable solution. There are different types of corticosteroids, though, and the effectiveness of using certain types of corticosteroids for eczema depends on the potency of the medication and the severity of the condition.

Eczema is a skin condition in which a person experiences inflamed, itchy and red skin. Sometimes the condition can worsen and a person will exhibit blisters or lesions that ooze. When the condition covers more than 20% of the body, the affected person can even experience pain. The cause of eczema is unknown and there is no cure for the condition. As such, the goal of eczema treatment is to prevent the condition from becoming worse, as well as to relieve symptoms.

The first sign of eczema is often itching. When a person responds to the itching by scratching, rashes develop on the affected area. As a precautionary measure, and with a mild form of eczema, a person can use cold compresses and moisturizers on the affected area in an attempt to prevent the condition from worsening. If the condition becomes inflamed, the next step in treatment is to use medication.

A doctor will usually prescribe topical corticosteroids for eczema. Topical corticosteroids include creams, lotions and ointments. In general, eczema treatment lasts only until the rash clears. This time frame can be anywhere from seven days to three weeks, although some people do have a chronic case of the condition. Oral corticosteroids or corticosteroid injections are only used when the condition is too severe or when it does not respond to topical corticosteroids.

Corticosteroids come in varying levels of potency. Usually, a doctor will prescribe corticosteroids for eczema in the mildest effective dose. If the condition requires higher potency, the doctor might prescribe a high-potency corticosteroid for a limited amount of time and then change the prescription back to a low-potency form. For example, a person’s condition might suddenly flare up. After treating the worsened condition, the affected person will then resume a milder dose.

Being careful about how much corticosteroids a person takes is important because corticosteroids have the potential to cause severe side effects, depending on the dosage and the length of use. Side effects of corticosteroids vary from person to person. Examples of side effects include delayed growth, glaucoma and high blood pressure. In addition, side effects also include osteoporosis, skin effects and weight gain.

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