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Asthma Treatment: Steroids and Other Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

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What Are the Side Effects of Inhaled Steroids?

Inhaled steroids have few side effects, especially at lower doses. If you are taking higher doses, thrush (a yeast infection in the mouth) and hoarseness may occur, although this is rare. Rinsing the mouth, gargling after using the asthma inhaler, and using a spacer device with metered dose inhalers will help prevent these side effects. Thrush is easily treated with an antifungal mouthwash.

Inhaled steroids (asthma inhalers) are safe for adults and children. Side effects with these anti-inflammatory asthma inhalers are minimal. Your doctor will prescribe the lowest dose that effectively controls your child's or your asthma.

On a side note, many parents are concerned about giving their children "steroids." The inhaled steroids are not the same as anabolic steroids that some athletes take to build muscle. These steroids are anti-inflammatory drugs, the cornerstone of asthma therapy. There are many benefits of using anti-inflammatory asthma inhalers to self-manage asthma.

To learn more about using inhaled steroids in children, see WebMD's article on Childhood Asthma.

What Are the Benefits of Using Inhaled Steroids?

The benefits of inhaled steroids for better asthma control far exceed their risks, and include:

  • Reduced frequency of asthma attacks
  • Decreased use of beta-agonist bronchodilators (quick relief or rescue inhalers)
  • Improved lung function
  • Reduced emergency room visits and hospitalizations for life-threatening asthma

How Do Prednisone and Systemic Steroids Work to Increase Asthma Control?

Using systemic steroids (steroids taken by mouth or by injection that can affect the entire body) such as prednisone, prednisolone, and methylprednisolone helps to treat severe asthma episodes, allowing people to gain better asthma control. Prednisone and other steroid drugs may be used to help control sudden and severe asthma attacks or in rare cases to treat long-term, hard-to-control asthma.

Most often, prednisone or another steroid is taken in high doses for a few days (called a steroid burst) for more a severe asthma attack. 

Side effects of systemic steroids include weakness, acne, weight gain, mood or behavior changes, upset stomach, bone loss, eye changes, and slowing of growth. These side effects rarely occur with short-term use, such as for an acute asthma attack.

For in-depth information, see WebMD's article on Prednisone and Asthma.

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