Does Hydrocortisone Work for Eczema?

Hydrocortisone is available as a cream, ointment, lotion, or gel. You can find mild-strength hydrocortisone over the counter.

You can get a prescription for stronger hydrocortisone if your eczema is moderate to severe. Hydrocortisone is generally considered safe, but there are some risks and side effects.

What is hydrocortisone?

Hydrocortisone is a corticosteroid medication that reduces inflammation in your body. The topical form controls redness, swelling, and itching. It can help relieve rashes and treat chronic skin conditions such as eczema.

It’s available in creams, lotions, ointments, and gels. The medication is available in different strengths ranging from .1 to 2.5 percent. You can purchase over-the-counter hydrocortisone creams up to 1 percent strength at pharmacies.

Can hydrocortisone help babies with eczema?

Hydrocortisone cream isn’t recommended for children under 2 years old. It can irritate a baby’s sensitive skin further and has been linked to slowed growth and delayed weight gain.

It’s generally considered safer to use a moisturizer specifically designed for babies instead. However, if your baby has severe eczema that isn’t helped by moisturizers, bathing, or other care tips, talk to their doctor. Babies can be prescribed mild hydrocortisone in some cases.

How do you use hydrocortisone for eczema?

You’ll use the same general steps to apply hydrocortisone whether it’s a cream, ointment, lotion, or gel. Read the instructions that come with your specific product before your first use.

If your hydrocortisone cream is a prescription, you might have specific instructions to follow from your medical professional. Hydrocortisone should be used once or twice a day unless a doctor has advised you to use it more often.

The general instructions for hydrocortisone use is the same for adults and children. It’s important to:

  • wash and dry your hands before use
  • apply a thin layer of hydrocortisone to any irritated areas.
  • rub in until it’s disappeared into your skin
  • apply to all affected areas
  • not get hydrocortisone in open cuts or sores
  • wash and dry your hands after using
  • wait at least 10 minutes before applying other skin care products

Are there side effects of using hydrocortisone for eczema?

There are possible side effects of hydrocortisone. Most symptoms are minor and are contained to the area of skin treated with hydrocortisone. Side effects are significantly more likely when hydrocortisone is used for longer than 4 weeks. Common side effects include:

  • burning
  • itching
  • redness
  • stinging
  • acne
  • unwanted hair growth
  • skin thinning

Side effects in children include:

  • spots on the skin
  • red skin
  • accidentally spreading an infection
  • skin thinning
  • temporary skin lightening

Are there risks of using hydrocortisone for eczema?

Hydrocortisone is generally considered safe, but there are some risks to using it for eczema. The risks increase if you use strong hydrocortisone or if you use it for a long time. These potential complications are rare, but can occur. They include:

  • worsening skin irritation. If your skin becomes red, swollen, or has discharge, this is generally a sign of an infection.
  • Lowered potassium. You might have muscle cramps and muscle weakness if hydrocortisone has caused a dip in your potassium levels.
  • Diabetes. Early symptoms of diabetes include increased thirst, frequent urination, and unwanted weight loss.
  • Mental health concerns. You can experience depression, anxiety, unwanted thoughts, and other mental health concerns with long-term hydrocortisone use.
  • Cushing’s syndrome. A hormonal imbalance, Cushing’s syndrome causes weight gain and a rounded face.
  • Lowered pancreas function. When your pancreas can’t work correctly, you might experience severe stomach and back pain.
  • Slowed growth in children. Hydrocortisone can slow the growth of children and teenagers.

It’s important to stop using hydrocortisone immediately if you notice any of these signs or symptoms. Tell a medical professional about your symptoms and your hydrocortisone use.

What’s the outlook for people with eczema who use hydrocortisone?

Hydrocortisone is often one of the first treatments that people with eczema use to manage flare-ups. For many people, hydrocortisone is effective and relieves symptoms. However, it isn’t meant for daily use. Instead, a large part of managing eczema is preventing flare-ups from happening in the first place.

It’s not possible to prevent all flare-ups, but you can reduce them by learning to identify your eczema triggers and by keeping your skin clean and moisturized.

Your doctor might prescribe different medications if your flare-ups are severe or don’t respond to hydrocortisone. They can include other topical medications, oral steroids, and immune-suppressing medications, immune-suppressing injections, and phototherapy.

The right option for you will depend on how severe your eczema is and how your body responds to various treatments.

The takeaway

Hydrocortisone is a common eczema treatment. It’s available in both over-the- counter and prescription strengths. It can reduce the itching, redness, and swelling of eczema flare-ups.

It’s not recommended for children under 2 years old, but is generally considered safe for older children and teenagers. There are some risks and side effects to using hydrocortisone.

While most side effects are minor and contained to the skin, there are some serious risks associated with hydrocortisone use. The risk increases the longer hydrocortisone is used. A medical professional can prescribe you an alternative if you experience side effects or if hydrocortisone isn’t effective for your eczema.

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