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Reviewed by Dr Roy Kedem, MD
Information last reviewed 10/01/20
Hydrocortisone cream is a topical corticosteroid used in the treatment of eczema and other inflammatory skin conditions. It is applied to affected areas of skin, and works by reducing inflammation, which also reduces symptoms such as itching and redness.
Topical Hydrocortisone has various uses, including eczema, allergies, insect bites, poison oak and others. Hydrocortisone is also available in other non-topical forms, such as oral tablets and intravenous solution, to treat systemic conditions.
Hydrocortisone is a corticosteroid; it helps to reduce inflammation associated with eczema. Specifically, it causes the blood vessels near the skin's surface to constrict, reducing the itch and redness associated with eczema.
Hydrocortisone cream is one of the first-line treatments for eczema. It is a comparatively low-strength eczema medication but is still very effective. Your doctor will always start by prescribing the least potent medication that can treat you effectively. This reduces the chance of side effects while still treating your condition. Hydrocortisone cream may not always be effective, and sometimes your doctor may need to prescribe something stronger. If you don't see any improvement after 4-7 days of treatment, you should let your doctor know that you may need an alternative.
The active ingredient in Hydrocortisone cream is Hydrocortisone. Hydrocortisone is a corticosteroid that works by reducing the inflammation associated with eczema.
The inactive ingredients in Hydrocortisone cream can vary between different manufacturers. 2.5% Hydrocortisone cream manufactured by Lannett contains the following inactive ingredients: ethyl alcohol, isopropyl palmitate, methylparaben, mineral oil, lanolin alcohol, polysorbate 40, propylene glycol, propylene glycol stearate, propylparaben, water, sorbic acid, sorbitan monopalmitate, stearyl alcohol, xanthan gum.
The active and inactive ingredients of hydrocortisone cream are not common allergens known to cause a severe allergic reaction. Hydrocortisone cream does contain alcohol which can cause burning or irritation to the area it is used on during the first few days of use. This should disappear after a few days of use.
Use Hydrocortisone cream as recommended by your doctor. Usually, Hydrocortisone cream is applied twice daily. When you're ready to apply the cream, follow the instructions below:
Hydrocortisone is one of the weaker corticosteroid creams. To help you avoid side effects, your doctor will always try to prescribe the least potent medication that can treat your condition. Therefore, if you find that Hydrocortisone does not improve your skin condition within a week, you may need stronger treatment. You should let the prescribing doctor know, as they can find you a more suitable alternative.
Hydrocortisone cream can be thick and is not ideal for scalp application. However, it is also available in lotion forms, which can be applied more easily to the scalp if required. You should only apply Hydrocortisone to your scalp if instructed to do so by a doctor.
Hydrocortisone should only be applied to the face if you are instructed to do so by your doctor. This is because Hydrocortisone can worsen conditions that affect the face, such as acne and rosacea.
If you have eczema on your lips, your doctor may recommend that you use a small amount of Hydrocortisone on your lips. However, you should not use Hydrocortisone on your lips prior to being evaluated by a doctor. Some conditions affecting the lips, such as cold sores and angular cheilitis, can look like eczema, but could worsen if treated with hydrocortisone. Additionally, it is generally recommended that you avoid applying Hydrocortisone to your face, as it can exacerbate skin conditions such as acne and rosacea.
Topical hydrocortisone is not recommended for the treatment of acne, and in some cases can cause acne to worsen.
Hydrocortisone should not be applied to infected areas, including areas affected by a yeast infection. Hydrocortisone is a corticosteroid, and can reduce your immune system's ability to fight off the fungus which causes a yeast infection.
Common side effects of topical Hydrocortisone include:
Rare side effects include:
Other possible side effects include:
If you experience a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis), you need to seek emergency medical attention. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include:
Hydrocortisone cream should be avoided if you have any of the following conditions:
You should always let the doctor know about any other health conditions you have to ensure that the most appropriate treatment is prescribed.
Other medications containing corticosteroids and immunosuppressive medications, such as Cyclosporin, may interact with Hydrocortisone. Therefore, it is important to let the prescribing doctor know of any medications or other treatments that you are taking.
There is insufficient evidence to show that using Hydrocortisone when pregnant is safe. While the mother and fetus's risk is considered to be small, Hydrocortisone should generally be avoided by pregnant women. A doctor may still prescribe Hydrocortisone to a pregnant patient if they feel the benefits outweigh the risks.
It is not known if Hydrocortisone cream can lead to the presence of Hydrocortisone in breast milk. Therefore, a doctor will only prescribe Hydrocortisone cream to breastfeeding women if the benefits outweigh the risks.
Hydrocortisone can cause worsening of acne in some people. For this reason, it is best to avoid applying Hydrocortisone to the face.
Hydrocortisone cream comes in a range of different strengths (potencies). The most potent medication is not necessarily the best one for you, as stronger medication can also produce more substantial side effects. Therefore, your doctor will try to prescribe the weakest medication that will treat your condition.
Antihistamines work by blocking the effects of histamine - a chemical involved in allergic reactions. Hydrocortisone is a corticosteroid that works by reducing inflammation. Hydrocortisone cream can be used with antihistamines to treat allergy symptoms, such as itching and rashes. Hydrocortisone cream may be a more appropriate first treatment option as some oral antihistamines can cause drowsiness and affect your ability to work or drive.
Calamine lotion is a soothing over-the-counter medication used to treat mild itchiness and contact dermatitis (a type of allergic eczema). Hydrocortisone is available over the counter, although higher strengths may only be available by prescription. If calamine lotion does not have the desired effect, Hydrocortisone cream may be a good alternative for you.
Both Hydrocortisone and Triamcinolone are corticosteroids and work by a similar mechanism. Triamcinolone is generally the more potent of the two medications, but that does not necessarily mean that it is a better treatment. This is because stronger medications can produce greater side effects. Therefore, your doctor will try to prescribe the least potent medication that will treat your condition effectively.
Hydrocortisone is a generic medication. This means that a number of different pharmaceutical companies can manufacture it. The table below summarises different brand names of Hydrocortisone cream and their manufacturers:
An over-the-counter Hydrocortisone cream can be used on severe sunburn. Prescription-strength Hydrocortisone is generally too potent for use on sunburn and may cause uncomfortable side effects. If your sunburnt skin develops blisters, you should seek medical attention.
Hydrocortisone cream is an effective treatment to reduce itchiness. It works by reducing inflammation, which helps to reduce itching. Avoiding scratching in turn, helps the skin heal, reducing scarring and the chance of infection.
Ringworm is a common fungal infection. While Hydrocortisone is often used to reduce itching, it can make infections, such as ringworm, much worse. You should not use topical steroids to treat skin infections.
Hydrocortisone is not generally considered to be effective in alleviating hives, although it may have some effect.
Poison ivy causes a form of contact dermatitis. Hydrocortisone is often used to treat poison ivy, but some forms of prescription Hydrocortisone creams may be too strong. Therefore, you should seek medical advice before applying prescription Hydrocortisone to poison ivy.
Hydrocortisone can be used to reduce swelling associated with inflammation, however, you should not use Hydrocortisone to self-medicate in this way. Swelling is not a specific condition and can stem from a number of different causes. Applying Hydrocortisone to the affected area may cause some conditions to worsen. You should only use Hydrocortisone for the purpose it was prescribed for.
Disclaimer: This is not medical advice. You and your physician will determine if and how you should take any medication prescribed to you following a medical consultation.
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