|Type of medicine||Mild topical corticosteroid|
|Used for||Mild inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema and dermatitis.
Nappy rash in babies.
|Also called||Dermacort®, Dioderm®, HC45®, Lanacort®, Mildison®, and Zenoxone®|
|Available as||Cream and ointment|
Hydrocortisone is a mild topical corticosteroid (also referred to as a topical steroid). In inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema and dermatitis, topical steroids are used in addition to emollients (moisturisers) when patches of eczema or dermatitis flare up. Hydrocortisone relieves the symptoms of a flare-up by reducing inflammation, itching and redness. It is not a cure for these conditions, but it will help to relieve the symptoms. It also reduces inflammation due to irritants such as insect stings and in nappy rash.
Hydrocortisone is available on prescription, or it can be bought over the counter at pharmacies, without a prescription. It is also available in combination with antibacterials or antifungals for use when there is a skin infection also present, such as in athlete's foot.
Before using hydrocortisone
To make sure this is the right treatment for you, before you start using hydrocortisone it is important that your doctor or pharmacist knows:
- If you have any areas of infected skin.
- If you have rosacea or acne.
- If you are pregnant or breast-feeding.
- If you have ever had an allergic reaction to a skin preparation.
How to use hydrocortisone
- Before you start using this cream, read the manufacturer's printed information leaflet from inside your pack. The leaflet will give you more information about topical steroids and a full list of side-effects that you may experience from using them.
- Apply a small amount on to the areas of skin which are inflamed. Then gently rub it into the skin until it has disappeared. Do not use hydrocortisone on any broken or infected areas of skin.
- The amount of topical steroid that you should apply is commonly measured by fingertip units (FTUs). One FTU is the amount of cream that is squeezed out along an adult's fingertip (that is, from the very end of the finger to the first crease in the finger). As a guide, one FTU is enough to cover an area twice the size of an adult hand. Your doctor or pharmacist will give you an idea of how many FTUs you will need to cover the area of your skin which is affected.
- Your doctor or pharmacist will tell you how often to apply hydrocortisone. It must not be applied more than twice a day, and once a day is often sufficient.
- If you are using more than one topical corticosteroid, make sure you know when and where to use each one. If you are unsure, check with your doctor or ask your pharmacist for further advice.
- After you have applied hydrocortisone, wash your hands (unless your hands are the treated area).
- If you are using hydrocortisone for psoriasis, make sure you follow your doctor's instructions carefully. It should not be used for large areas of psoriasis, as this can cause your symptoms to flare up afterwards.
- Hydrocortisone should not be used by children under 10 years of age, or by women who are pregnant, unless it has been prescribed by a doctor.
Getting the most from your treatment
- If you are using an emollient along with hydrocortisone, apply the emollient first. Then wait 10-15 minutes before applying hydrocortisone. This allows time for the emollient to be absorbed before hydrocortisone is applied. (Your skin should be moist but not slippery when you apply the hydrocortisone.)
- Do not use hydrocortisone on your face unless a doctor has said you should. If you have been told to use it on your face, be careful not to get any cream or ointment near your eyes and do not use it for longer periods of time than you have been advised.
- Unless advised to do so by your doctor, do not apply a bandage or dressing to the area being treated as this will increase absorption of the preparation and increase the risk of side-effects.
- Continue to use hydrocortisone until the flare-up has completely gone and then stop it. A course of treatment of seven days is usually sufficient. If your symptoms have not improved after this time (or if they get worse), speak again with your pharmacist or doctor for further advice. You should not use hydrocortisone you have bought over the counter for more than seven days without seeing your doctor.
- If you have eczema or dermatitis, continue to use your emollients every day after you finish using hydrocortisone. This will help to prevent a further flare-up.
Can hydrocortisone cause problems?
Short courses (less than four weeks) of topical steroids like hydrocortisone are usually safe and do not cause any problems. If used for long periods, your skin may develop permanent striae (like stretch marks), bruising, discolouration, or thin spidery blood vessels.
Speak with your doctor or pharmacist if you experience these or any other side-effects which you think may be due to hydrocortisone.
How to store hydrocortisone
- Keep all medicines out of the reach and sight of children.
- Store in a cool, dry place, away from direct heat and light.
Important information about all medicines
Further reading & references
- British National Formulary; 62nd Edition (Sep 2011) British Medical Association and Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, London
|Original Author: Helen Allen||Current Version: Helen Allen||Peer Reviewer: Dr Helen Huins|
|Last Checked: 18/04/2012||Document ID: 3478 Version: 25||© EMIS|
Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.