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Are Steroid Creams Safe?

What are the potential side effects of topical corticosteroids?

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Q: What are the potential side effects of topical corticosteroids?

A: Most of the time, topical corticosteroids are used without side effects. They come in a variety of strengths. Choosing the right strength for the right problem and location on the body helps avoid problems.

Side effects can occur, however, usually with overuse. These ordinarily take weeks to months to appear and include skin thinning, stretch marks, easy bruising, dilated blood vessels and, less commonly, increased hair growth. Using topical steroids on the face may cause a red rash around the mouth or an acne-like rash. Care must be taken when steroids are used around the eyes because glaucoma or cataracts may result.

If large doses of stronger steroids are used continuously for long periods, the body can absorb enough of the drug to cause [body-wide] side effects, including stunted growth, elevated blood sugar and osteoporosis.

Steven R. Feldman, MD, PhD
Department of Dermatology
Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center
Winston-Salem, N.C.

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