USE OF STEROIDS FOR
ASTHMA AND ALLERGIES
Steroids for Asthma and Allergy Patients
Nearly 50 million people suffer from asthma and allergies. Fortunately, today there are many effective medications available to treat these conditions. Steroids, also commonly called corticosteroids, are one of the medications frequently prescribed. These steroids are an anti-inflammatory drug, not to be confused with the anabolic steroids used by some athletes.
What are the Functions of Steroids?
Steroids decrease airway inflammation, which produces the following desired effects in asthma patients:
Anabolic Steroids vs. Cortisone Steroids
- decreases the swelling in the bronchial tubes;
- reduces production of mucus by the cells lining the bronchial tubes;
- decreases hyper-reactivity of the airways;
- helps airway smooth muscle response to other medications;
- prevents constriction of the bronchial tubes;
- stabilizes pulmonary function.
When most people hear the word steroids, they think of the anabolic steroids that are used by some athletes and body builders. These anabolic steroids help to enhance athletic performance and physical build, but have severe side effects. Cortisone steroids (corticosteroids) are anti-inflammatory hormones. They are unrelated to the anabolic steroids or sex hormones such as androgens. On a short-term basis, corticosteroids are a safe and effective treatment for asthma and allergies with no major side effects.
How are Steroids Administered?
Corticosteroids can be administered in a variety of ways. Topical preparations (on a specific surface area such as skin or the lining of the bronchial tubes) may be applied as creams or sprays. Orally, corticosteroids may be taken in a liquid or tablet form, or administered by injection. Corticosteroids have been used as a successful treatment for asthma and allergies since 1948.
Long-term use of steroids, particularly oral steroids, is not recommended. Specialists prescribe oral steroids for long durations only when other treatments have failed to restore normal respiratory functions and the risks of uncontrolled asthma are greater than the side effects of the steroids.
Studies have showed long-term oral steroid use may cause serious side effects such as ulcers, weight gain, cataracts, decreased growth in children, high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, and thinning of the bones and skin. Patients with questions and concerns about long-term steroid use should discuss them with their asthma/allergy specialist.
Prednisone, which is available in tablet or liquid form, is one of the most commonly prescribed steroid drugs for asthma and allergy patients. Possible side effects of short-term prednisone use include slight weight gain, increased appetite, menstrual irregularities and cramps, heartburn, or indigestion.
Cortisone aerosols are recommended for patients with daily, moderate or severe asthma symptoms. Although 5 percent of the population experience minor side effects of hoarseness and thrush from using these aerosols, these effects can be minimized with mouth-rinsing and use of a spacer device that will reduce the amount of medication residue in the mouth and throat.
While these steroid sprays have few serious side effects, some patients have experienced unpleasant effects of cortisone tablet withdrawal such as loss of energy, poor appetite, and severe muscle aches or joint pains. It is recommended that oral medications be tapered slowly for weeks or months to avoid these effects of withdrawal.
Proper Steroid Usage
Corticosteroids, when taken properly, are a very effective method of treatment for asthma and allergies. To achieve their desired effects, you should always take them in the dosage prescribed. Do not increase or decrease your medication without first consulting your physician. Also, it is important to follow the prescribed frequency and use the proper technique to administer the medication.
Your allergist can provide you with more information on the use of steroids for allergy and asthma.
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