The dangers of long term use of topical steroids

The dangers of long term use of topical steroids

TROPICAL steroids are creams, ointments and lotions which contain steroid medications. These include Betamethasone, Hydrocortisone and are most commonly used in the treatment of skin conditions such as eczema to reduce skin inflammation.
They come in different potencies and the greater the strength, the greater the risk of side-effects with continued use. Most women and high school girls buy Betamethasone cream over the counter at retail pharmacies to get rid of pimples on their faces, some use it to brighten their skin. But do they really know the adverse effects of these creams especially in the long run?

Common side-effects from topical steroids
Generally, short courses of topical steroids which last under four weeks are considered a safer option and are prescribed by a doctor. Problems may develop however, if topical steroids are used for long periods, or if short courses of stronger steroids are repeated too often.
Long-term use of topical steroids may cause side-effects, the most common of which is skin atrophy (The degeneration and thinning of the epidermis and dermis). This is worsened by factors such as higher potency steroids, occlusion, thinner skin, and older patient age.
The long-term use of strong steroids is most concerning and side-effects can either be ‘local’ or ‘systemic’. Local means just affecting that bit of skin and systemic means affecting the whole body or at least multiple organ systems.

Local effects may include:

  • Stinging or burning feeling following the first treatment.
  • Skin thinning – this mostly occurs with the use of high-strength steroids, although it can be reversed when treatment is stopped.
  • Topical steroids can also induce rosacea, which is a common skin condition that causes redness and visible blood vessels in ones face. It may also produce small, red, pus-filled bumps.
  • Increased hair growth where the skin is being treated.
  • Stretch-marks: long-term use has in some cases led to permanent strides on the skin, bruising, discolouration, or thin spidery blood vessels.
  • Allergy: some people have developed an allergy to the contents of the treatment, which in some instances can make the inflammation worse.

Systemic effects include:

The topical steroid gets through the skin and into the bloodstream, resulting in systemic effects. Decreased immune system resulting in exposure to opportunistic infections is one major systemic adverse effect of topical steroids.

Other systemic effects include:

  • Fluid build-up in the legs (oedema)
  •  Increase in blood pressure
  • Bone damage and thinning
  • Cushing’s syndrome: although rare, symptoms include rapid weight gain, skin thinning and mood changes.

Should you be prescribed a treatment which includes a topical steroid, it is important to only use it as directed by your doctor and not to continue use as a ‘preventative’ measure. Betamethasone is not to be used for cosmetics purposes ladies, it is dangerous!

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