Using Oral Corticosteroids for Flare-Ups

Oral corticosteroids are not the steroids that you hear about athletes abusing. Your healthcare provider may prescribe oral corticosteroids for asthma flare-ups. These medicines help to reduce swelling and mucus production in the airways. Usually they are only taken for a short period of time. For example, they may be taken for 5 days. Sometimes people with asthma have to take oral corticosteroids for longer periods of time.

While taking these medicines, it’s important that you:

  • Continue to keep track of your asthma symptoms

  • Keep taking your long-term controller medicines

  • Use your quick-relief medicines as needed

Close up of hands and a bottle of pills

Tips for taking your medicine

Make sure you take the medicine exactly as it is prescribed. The directions can be confusing, so if you are unsure ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist. Keep these instructions on your Asthma Action Plan.

Here are some tips:

  • Develop, use, and maintain an Asthma Action Plan. An Asthma Action Plan is a written worksheet developed just for you. It is put together by you and your healthcare provider and gives exact steps to take for the early treatment of your asthma symptoms. These steps will help keep your asthma from getting worse. The worksheet also suggests when to call your healthcare provider or go to the emergency room. Explain the worksheet to your close family members, keep a copy with you, and take it with you to your healthcare appointments so it can be updated.  

  • The dose is usually higher when you start taking the medicine. Then it is slowly lowered until you are done. This is called tapering.

  • Don’t forget to take your medicine on time. To help you remember, try taking your medicine when you brush your teeth. Or write down each dose as you take it.

  • Don’t stop taking this medicine unless your healthcare provider tells you to. Take all the medicine until it is gone.

  • Know what to do if you happen to miss a dose. Write this on your Asthma Action Plan.

Common oral corticosteroids

  • Methylprednisolone

  • Prednisolone

  • Prednisolone sodium phosphate

  • Prednisone

Side effects

This medicine has few side effects when taken for a short time. The most common ones include appetite changes, nervousness, sleep problems, or indigestion. If you have diabetes, it may make your sugars difficult to control.

If this medicine is used for a long time, more serious side effects may occur. These include acne, weight gain, mood changes, high blood pressure, swelling, bruising, sleep problems, and stomach, eye, or bone problems. Do not take more medicine or take it more often than you are supposed to.

Talk with your healthcare provider about any side effects that you have. In the meantime, don’t stop taking your medicine.

These medicines can cause problems with other medicines. They can also worsen other health problems. Let your healthcare providers know about all the medicines you take. This includes over-the-counter, vitamin, and herbal products. Tell all your healthcare providers that you are taking oral corticosteroids, including your dentist.

Call your healthcare provider if you have any of the following:

  • Trouble seeing

  • Need to urinate more often than usual

  • Increased thirst

  • Worsening of your asthma symptoms