Skip to Content
Home > Wellness > Health Library > Systemic Corticosteroids for Relief During Asthma Attacks
The following medicines can be given as an
The following medicines can be given as pills or
All corticosteroids reduce
inflammation in the airways that carry air to the
lungs (bronchial tubes). They also decrease the
mucus made by the bronchial tubes and make it easier
for you to breathe.
Systemic corticosteroids travel throughout the
body before reaching the airway. This results in more side effects and more
serious side effects than with inhaled corticosteroids, which treat
inflammation in the airways only.
Systemic corticosteroids help
control narrowing and inflammation in the airways of the lungs in
asthma. They are used to:
Corticosteroids by mouth or injection
may be used as short-term treatment after an asthma attack or when asthma has not
been under control. "Burst" treatment with corticosteroids may be continued for 3 to
14 days or longer. A person who continues to have asthma attacks while being
treated with inhaled corticosteroids may need to have the dose of medicine increased.
Corticosteroids may make the episode shorter and prevent
early recurrence of episodes. The length of treatment with corticosteroids can
be different depending on the person. It your attack wasn't very severe, you
could take corticosteroids for only 3 days. But you may need to take them for
as long as several weeks for a very severe attack.
People who have
severe persistent asthma may need to take corticosteroid pills or liquid by
mouth daily or every other day to control their symptoms.
Different types of medicines are often used together in the treatment of
asthma. Medicine treatment for asthma depends on a person's age, his or her
type of asthma, and how well the treatment is controlling asthma
Your doctor will work with you to help find the number and
dose of medicines that work best.
A review of research shows that
treatment with systemic corticosteroids during an asthma attack reduced
hospital admissions and the frequency of relapse in adults.footnote 1
A review of research on treatments for asthma in children found that systemic corticosteroids during an asthma attack shortened the duration of hospital visits for asthma attacks for children.footnote 2
In children, corticosteroid pills reduce the severity and length of an asthma
attack. But for the pills to stop an asthma attack, it is important to give
them at the first sign of symptoms.footnote 3
All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.
Here are some important things to think about:
Common side effects of long-term treatment with
corticosteroids given by mouth include:
To minimize or prevent side effects of
corticosteroids keep the dose of corticosteroids as low as
possible while still maintaining asthma control.
See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug
Reference is not available in all systems.)
If you have been using systemic corticosteroids for more
than 3 weeks and are going to stop taking them, you need to gradually decrease
the amount you use, rather than stopping them all at once. This will help avoid
problems with the adrenal glands.
Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.
There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.
If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or planning to get pregnant, do not use any medicines unless your doctor tells you to. Some medicines can harm your baby. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbs, and supplements. And make sure that all your doctors know that you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or planning to get pregnant.
Women who have gone through menopause and who use corticosteroids by mouth or injection for long periods of time need to take extra calcium and vitamin D—and
possibly bisphosphonates (such as Fosamax)—to prevent bone loss
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
Complete the new medication information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.
Rodrigo G (2011). Asthma in adults (acute), search date April 2010. BMJ Clinical Evidence. Available online: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.
Okpapi A, et al. (2012). Asthma and other recurrent wheezing disorders in children (acute), search date June 2010. BMJ Clinical Evidence. Available online: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.
Rachelefsky G (2003). Treating exacerbations of asthma in children: The role of systemic corticosteroids. Pediatrics, 112(2): 382–397.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal MedicineAdam Husney, MD - Family MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerRohit K Katial, MD - Allergy and Immunology
Current as ofMay 23, 2016
Current as of:
May 23, 2016
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Rohit K Katial, MD - Allergy and Immunology
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2016 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
I Want To...
Our interactive Decision Points guide you through making key health decisions by combining medical information with your personal information.
You'll find Decision Points to help you answer questions about:
Get started learning more about your health!
Our Interactive Tools can help you make smart decisions for a healthier life. You'll find personal calculators and tools for health and fitness, lifestyle checkups, and pregnancy.
Feeling under the weather?
Use our interactive symptom checker to evaluate your symptoms and determine appropriate action or treatment.