Corticosteroids for lung conditions

In many lung conditions, the airways within the lungs become inflamed (swollen). This can lead to shortness of breath, coughing, and wheezing.

Corticosteroids are medications that decrease the body's inflammatory response, which is often triggered by an infection or chronic disease (such as asthma). A decrease in inflammation may decrease symptoms, such as shortness of breath.

Corticosteroids given by mouth or given through a vein (intravenous) have many potential side effects if used for long periods of time (usually longer than 10 days). Side effects occur less often and are less severe when inhaled forms of corticosteroids are used.

Potential side effects of long-term use of corticosteroids include:

  • Osteoporosis (bone weakening), which is common.
  • Recurrent infections.
  • A cloudy area in the lens of the eye (cataracts).
  • Thin, fragile skin that bruises easily.
  • Increased risk for sores in the stomach (ulcers).

Potential side effects of short-term use of corticosteroid include:

  • Weight gain and fluid retention.
  • Mood changes.
  • Increased blood sugar level, which may lead to a type of diabetes caused by the medication (secondary diabetes). If you already have diabetes, it may make the diabetes harder to control.
  • High blood pressure .

Corticosteroids always need to be used with caution. Your health professional will give you clear instructions about potential side effects and what to do if side effects develop.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

Last Updated: July 23, 2008

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