Guidance on prescribing topical steroids reminds practitioners to prescribe the least strong steroid which is effective for the least possible length of time. A balance must be struck between efficacy and reducing adverse effects. Education is crucial to maximise efficacy and reduce adverse effects. Use of printed information may be helpful (including detail of how to use emollients and topical steroids) and education involving practice nurses to help improve efficacy of treatments and information for patients. Examples can be obtained from the British Association of Dermatologists and the National Eczema Society.
Topical corticosteroids withdrawal (sometimes called “topical steroid addiction” or “Red Skin Syndrome”) appears to be a clinical adverse effect that can occur when topical corticosteroids are inappropriately used or overused, then stopped. It can result from prolonged, frequent, and inappropriate use of moderate to high potency topical corticosteroids, especially on the face and genital area, but is not limited to these criteria. In reviewing the studies that were used for the systematic review, it is thought that adult women who blush easily are a population particularly at risk. Very few cases have been reported in children, but no large-scale studies have attempted to quantify the incidence. Thus, continued vigilance and adherence to a safe, long-term treatment plan developed in conjunction with your dermatology provider is advised.
The most common side effect of topical corticosteroid use is skin atrophy. All topical steroids can induce atrophy, but higher potency steroids, occlusion, thinner skin, and older patient age increase the risk. The face, the backs of the hands, and intertriginous areas are particularly susceptible. Resolution often occurs after discontinuing use of these agents, but it may take months. Concurrent use of topical tretinoin (Retin-A) % may reduce the incidence of atrophy from chronic steroid applications. 30 Other side effects from topical steroids include permanent dermal atrophy, telangiectasia, and striae.