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What are the Different Forms of Hydrocortisone?

By Shannon Johnson
Updated May 17, 2024
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Hydrocortisone is an anti-inflammatory medication that comes in three main forms — oral, topical, and solution. This medication is used to treat the inflammation associated with various skin and joint conditions, as well as more severe health conditions such as lupus, high blood pressure, and ulcerative colitis. Hydrocortisone can be given over the counter or via prescription.

Over-the-counter hydrocortisone comes in extremely low doses and includes most topical treatments. Injections and oral formulations will often require a prescription. The prescription forms are somewhat more effective because of their higher concentration levels and formulations combined with other medications for more targeted relief.

Topical treatments include ointments, creams, gels, towels, and sprays. They are often utilized to treat minor skin conditions — including swelling, itchiness, redness, crusting, scaling, and dryness — that result from bug bites, bursitis, eczema, and rashes. The foam and suppository forms are often used to treat ailments such as hemorrhoids and intestinal issues.

Hydrocortisone injections are commonly used to treat joint inflammation and pain experienced with conditions such as arthritis and bursitis. Three common types of injections include articular, trigger point, and epidural. Articular injections are made directly into the joints, trigger point injections are inserted into the tendons surrounding the joint, and epidural injections are inserted into the lower part of the spine. Inhaled steroids are frequently used to reduce inflammation of the lungs that is associated with allergies and asthma.

Oral hydrocortisone is used to treat a variety of conditions, including cancer, skin and eye conditions, asthma, and allergies. It is also used to treat adrenal gland diseases, anemia, and thyroid gland malfunction. Oral ingestion of hydrocortisone is usually done with food or milk to avoid damage to the stomach lining. Care should be taken when stopping this medication after long-term use because of the significant chance of withdrawal side-effects.

Adverse reactions have been noted in a number of situations, so one should make sure to have a thorough conversation with a doctor about the state of one's health. Generally speaking, usage will range from one to four times a day and last from a few days to several months, depending on the condition being treated and the strength of the prescription. There are numerous side effects associated with hydrocortisone, including cracking and drying of the skin, severe burning or itching, acne breakouts, rashes, swelling, and difficulty breathing. These should always be reported to a medical professional immediately.

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