Take Corticosteroids with Caution

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Like so many medications, these offer some health benefits, but there’s a price you may pay in side effects.

Corticosteroids are a class of chemicals, either naturally produced within the body or synthesized outside it, that can treat a variety of conditions.

Though the word itself may be unfamiliar, many have either used or heard of various types used to treat common ailments. Prednisone, for example, is a common treatment for respiratory ailments.

Some find corticosteroids to have a positive impact on their health, but there are side effects associated with this genre as well.

Corticosteroids work by amplifying the effects of hormones naturally produced in the adrenal glands. By allowing the body to exceed its normal level of these natural hormones, they can help fight inflammation and arthritis. They can also suppress the immune system on occasions when the body’s defense mechanisms attack themselves in the mistaken expectation of a threat.

There are four different types of corticosteroids: Hydrocortisone, Acetonides, Betamethasone and Esters. These are applied orally, topically or via an inhaler.

Oral corticosteroids are distributed throughout the body, and thus can have the biggest side effects. Within a few days, they can lead to increased blood pressure, weight gain, swelling, mood swings and glaucoma.

Taken consistently over time, the risks of oral corticosteroids include cataracts, high blood sugar and increased risk from infections, among other health concerns.

While these medications are often prescribed to treat flare-ups from asthma, it’s important to let a physician know if any negative side-effects are experienced so that alternative treatments may be explored.

Topical corticosteroids are applied directly to the skin to treat inflammatory skin disorders. Though they contain the flare-ups in conditions like eczema and reduce the swelling and itchiness, they don’t treat the actual cause of the inflammation in and of themselves (because of that, they are often used in combination with an antibiotic).

Side effects are less potent than in oral corticosteroids but include thinning of the skin (which sometimes results in permanent stretch marks) and swollen, more visible blood vessels (again, permanently). The skin in the treated area can also bruise easier and be more at risk for infection.

Such side effects are more common in long-term usage over a large area with high-potent corticosteroids. Again, ask a physician if this is a concern. Other corticosteroids can be administered via injection, which again limits any side effects to the localized area.

Finally, inhaled corticosteroids are taken for conditions such as asthma, usually using an inhaler and/or a spacer. The primary benefit of this is that medicine gets to the lungs quicker than other avenues.

It is important to note that corticosteroids are taken this way as preventive measures … an inhaled corticosteroid won’t stop an asthma attack that has already started.

Side effects occur when the drug winds up in the mouth or throat instead of the lung. This can cause coughing, sore throat, hoarse speech and a dry mouth. Gargling with water and spitting after each puff can help alleviate these effects.

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