If you’ve ever been to a dermatology office, you probably know that corticosteroid creams are commonly prescribed for various skin disorders.
Over time, you might even get tempted to apply these creams without consulting your doctor. After all, the dermatologist will probably give you the same treatment, right? Wrong!
The abuse of cortisone creams can be very dangerous to your skin and health. In fact, there are some reported death cases that occurred after applying cortisone creams for a long time.
In this article, we will cover the potential damage that cortisone creams can inflict on your skin and why you should be very careful before using them.
What are cortisone creams?
Just like other topical steroids, cortisone creams help with dampening skin inflammation.
This drug belongs to a class of medication known as corticosteroids, which work by modulating your immune and inflammatory responses.
Inflammation is a common sign of several skin disorders, including hives, eczema, and psoriasis. Using cortisone creams would aid in reducing this undesirable manifestation. However, because cortisone creams suppress the function of your immune system, it is not always a good idea to use them.
For instance, if you have a skin infection, applying cortisone creams would compromise the only system that is trying to protect you – i.e., your immune system.
In other cases, cortisone creams may be necessary to control the symptoms of skin conditions, such as eczema. These creams help with the redness, swelling, and itching that often accompany all types of dermatitis.
How does cortisone creams work?
The skin has two main layers: a superficial layer known as the epidermis and a deeper layer called the dermis. The latter has blood vessels that swell to allow immune cells, cytokines, and other pro-inflammatory compounds to join the site of inflammation.
In order for cortisone creams to work, they need to penetrate the skin and reach the dermis. Once there, they constrict the blood vessels, which dramatically dampens inflammation.
Additionally, cortisone gets into the immune cells to stop their action, which eventually helps with inflammation.
When are cortisone creams used?
The uses of cortisone creams are quite diverse, especially in dermatology.
Here are some diseases that could benefit from these drugs:
- Insect bites
- Exposure to poison ivy
The potential side effects of cortisone creams
After covering the uses of cortisone creams, you are probably wondering: “These drugs seem great! Why was the introduction so scary?”
In reality, the beneficial effects of cortisone creams are what make them so dangerous. Suppressing the inflammatory and immune responses is not something to take lightly. Additionally, cortisone creams interfere with your hormonal balance, which precipitates a myriad of side effects.
Some of the common side effects include:
- Irritation at the site of applying the drug
- Unusual hair growth
- Skin discoloration
- Stretch marks
Of course, these side effects do not exclusively occur when you self-medicate. You could develop the same undesirable symptoms when your doctor prescribes cortisone creams.
After all, the job of your doctor is to conduct a rapid risk-benefit analysis to see whether the drug would be good for you.
Note that side effects are more prevalent when you use cortisone creams on a large patch of skin for a long period of time. A few months of this treatment can make your skin thinner and cause stretch marks.
Finally, cortisone creams can interact with the action of other medications when it gets absorbed to the blood. As a result, the concentration of certain medications can rise to dangerous levels.
When should you stop using cortisone creams?
If you are using cortisone creams, make sure to stop them if experience the following symptoms:
- Your skin becomes red or swollen
- Yellow fluid is weeping from your skin
- You develop an upset stomach, severe dizziness, fainting, muscle weakness, or mood changes
- Loss of appetite that keeps getting worse without an apparent cause
- Feelings of confusion, sleepiness, and excessive thirst
- Depression, anxiety, rapid mood changes, unusual fear, panic attacks
- Diabetes-like symptoms (e.g., thirst, excessive hunger, urinating large quantities, hot flushes)
- Moon face (i.e., puffy and round)
- Weight gain in the upper back and belly, which could be a sign of Cushing’s syndrome
- Muscle cramps or weakness – a sign of low potassium levels
In some rare cases, you could develop an allergic reaction to this drug. This typically presents with a rash, itching, swelling of the tongue and face, dizziness, and difficulty breathing.
We call this an anaphylactic shock, and it requires immediate medical attention.
Cortisone creams on children and teenagers
Children tend to have a high incidence of dermatological conditions, especially eczema.
Using cortisone creams to treat these diseases without consulting with their pediatrician can lead to dire consequences. For instance, research shows that long-time use of corticosteroids can hinder the normal growth of children and teenagers.
In other words, your child’s height, weight, and other developmental features will be disrupted. In fact, the pediatrician or dermatologist will closely monitor your child’s height to swiftly identify any medication-induced developmental disorders.
For transparency’s sake, scientists found that even if a child’s growth is slowed down because of cortisone, it does not seem to affect their overall adult height.
Speak with your child’s doctor about the potential risks of using cortisone creams to get the full picture.
The unregulated use of cortisone creams can be very dangerous for your skin and health. For this reason, you need to weigh the benefits of using this drug over the risks, even if your doctor recommends it.
We hope that this article managed to explain the nature and potential damage of cortisone creams. Of course, for tailored medical advice, make sure to speak with your primary care physician or dermatologist.
Zac Hyde M.D.