Corticosteroids are medications that reduce inflammation, treat autoimmune disorders, and replace hormones, according to WebMD. Doctors can prescribe corticosteroids in a variety of forms, including oral tablets, injections, inhalers and sprays, and topical creams, lotions and ointments.
Internal corticosteroids can ease discomfort and reduce inflammation related to asthma, allergies and physical injuries, according to WebMD. Topical corticosteroids can manage the symptoms of skin conditions such as eczema and contact dermatitis. Physicians prescribe corticosteroids to suppress the immune system when it attacks otherwise healthy parts of the body. This occurs in conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, lupus and Crohn’s disease. When the body produces insufficient amounts of hormones in the adrenal gland due to conditions such as Addison’s disease, corticosteroids can supplement these hormones.
Side effects of topical corticosteroids include thinning, discoloration and infection of the skin, states WebMD. Physicians prescribe corticosteroids in the minimum dose necessary to manage symptoms while minimizing the risk of side effects. Side effects for internal steroids are more severe, and in most cases, patients should only use them to treat extreme flare-ups. Long-term use can lead to ulcers, obesity, acne, infections and weakened muscles. Patients using corticosteroids have a higher risk of high blood pressure, osteoporosis and diabetes.