Treating Eczema with Steroid Creams

It is thought that between 15 and 20 per cent of children suffer from eczema, making it the most common skin disease affecting children. Nina Goad of the British Skin Foundation explains how steroid creams are used to treat it.

If your child suffers from atopic eczema, your doctor or dermatologist may prescribe steroid creams or ointments to settle the redness and itching when the eczema is active. These are known as topical steroids (‘topical’ refers to the fact that they are applied to the surface of the skin). They come in different strengths and your doctor will advise you about which type needs to be used, where, and for how long. Topical steroids should be combined with the regular use of moisturisers.

Concerns about steroids

The word ‘steroid’ can worry some parents as they associate it with steroid tablets and the anabolic steroids used by athletes. There have also been reports that many of the stronger steroid creams were misused in the 1960s and ‘70s, resulting in side effects such as thinning of the skin and the development of prominent stretch marks.

How to use the creams

However, dermatologists stress that modern topical steroids are safe, provided they’re used as directed by your doctor. The creams are classed as mild, moderate, potent and very potent. You may need to apply one of the more potent ones to tackle a flare up, then gradually cease use or switch to a lower strength once things have improved. Stopping topical steroids abruptly could allow the eczema to flare up again, so it may be helpful to keep using them on two consecutive days a week for a few weeks after the eczema has settled. Your doctor will be able to advise you on the best and safest way to proceed.

Skin thinning from topical steroid preparations should not be a problem if they’re used properly. It usually arises only when too strong a steroid has been used for too long, or in a ‘delicate’ area where the skin is naturally thin.

For more information, speak to your dermatologist or family doctor.

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