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What Is Hydrocortisone?
Hydrocortisone is a type of corticosteroid that’s prescribed as a topical cream. It is chiefly used to combat a multitude of skin conditions that cause redness and swelling. The purpose of Hydrocortisone is to reduce inflammation in the afflicted area, which will decrease the signs of redness.
You will find Hydrocortisone under a plethora of brand names, including Cortizone, Corticaine, Hydroskin, and more.
How Does Hydrocortisone Work?
This drug works by suppressing the immune system and decreasing the body’s inflammatory response. Swelling and redness appear on the skin due to the immune system responding to particular conditions. This is a natural defense response, but sometimes it can lead to too much inflammation.
Hydrocortisone is a corticosteroid, which is a special type of medication that targets inflammatory genes. It suppresses these genes and helps them turn off, meaning the immune system no longer triggers an inflammatory response.
Because Hydrocortisone is provided as a topical cream, it will specifically target inflammation when applied to part of your body. Therefore, it reduces inflammation in this particular area, which will calm down many common symptoms associated with inflammatory skin conditions.
What Is Hydrocortisone Used For?
Hydrocortisone is used for multiple symptoms and a selection of skin conditions. Some common skin conditions treated by this medication include:
- Allergic rashes
- Nappy rash
- Insect bites/stings
When used, Hydrocortisone will specifically target the following symptoms:
This medication is only for use on your skin so should not be applied orally. Hydrocortisone should also not be used for any facial skin conditions. You may suffer from some of the skin problems mentioned above, but if they affect your face you will need to seek different treatment. Hydrocortisone can have severe side effects when used on your face as the skin is more sensitive. Likewise, you should avoid applying it under your arms unless explicitly directed to by a doctor.
What Are The Side Effects Of Hydrocortisone?
Topical creams or ointments typically cause a wide range of potential side effects when applied to patients. Hydrocortisone is no different, with a handful of common and rare side effects present.
Common side effects are nothing to be concerned about as they usually clear up quickly. These are some of the more mild symptoms to be on the lookout for:
- Acne growth
- Mild skin irritation
- Excess hair growth
- Changes in skin color
- Small red bumps on the skin
- Dry skin
Give your body a chance to adapt to Hydrocortisone when you start using it. If these side effects are still present after a couple of weeks, talk to a doctor. If they keep getting progressively worse, stop using Hydrocortisone.
While very rare, there have been some severe side effects of Hydrocortisone noted:
- Excessive redness
- Excessive swelling
- Skin infections
- Severe rashes
- Allergic reactions
You must make a note of these severe side effects as you should speak to a doctor as soon as you notice them. There is a chance you’re suffering a bad reaction to the medication – or you may be applying it incorrectly. Either way, your doctor will explain the next steps so you can reduce these side effects and avoid making them worse.
How to Take Hydrocortisone?
Hydrocortisone is only used externally and you should avoid contact with your mouth or face. You will receive a tube with this cream inside when obtaining your prescription. Your doctor will go over the correct dosage amounts and how frequently you need to apply it to your skin. Pay attention to them and read the informational booklet that comes with your Hydrocortisone to know how much to apply each time.
Applying this medication is relatively simple. You squeeze out the required amount and rub it into the affected area. Keep this area clear so the Hydrocortisone can settle in and be more effective. Avoid covering this area or bandaging it up – unless your doctor tells you to.
When obtaining a Hydrocortisone prescription, you will be told how long to use this medication. Do not exceed the recommended duration as you could end up with mild or severe side effects. At the same time, avoid using Hydrocortisone on healthy skin. It is designed to treat inflammation, so use on healthy skin can trigger side effects.
Improvements in your skin are typically seen within a couple of weeks of regular use. If your symptoms do not abate, speak to your doctor and explain how you are using the medication. They might recommend using Hydrocortisone more frequently or could seek out another medication for you to try instead.
For more detailed information about Hydrocortisone, you can refer to the following sources:
- Cortef (hydrocortisone) prescription label, Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
- Hydrocortisone, Drugs.com.
- Hydrocortisone, MedlinePlus
The content on this page has been medically reviewed for accuracy and comprehensiveness by Amy Dougherty, FNP-BC, AGAC
Content on the DrHouse website is written by our medical content team and reviewed by qualified MDs, PhDs, NPs, and PharmDs. We follow strict content creation guidelines to ensure accurate medical information. However, this content is for informational purposes only and not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. For more information read our medical disclaimer.
Always consult with your physician or other qualified health providers about medical concerns. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it based on what you read on this website.
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Frequently asked questions
Who Should Not Take Hydrocortisone?
Hydrocortisone is not recommended for those who:
- Who has an infection – Hydrocortisone can suppress the immune response, making it more difficult for the body to fight off an infection.
- Allergic to it – People who have had an allergic reaction to hydrocortisone or any of its ingredients in the past.
- Those who suffer from diabetes – Hydrocortisone can affect blood sugar levels, so this medication should be avoided by those who suffer from diabetes.
Those are just some examples and you should consult with a doctor before taking Hydrocortisone.
What Is the Most Common Side Effect of Hydrocortisone?
The most common side effects of topically applied Hydrocortisone are dryness, redness, and irritation of the skin. Other common side effects can include thinning of the skin, changes in skin color, increased hair growth, and acne.
For tablet forms of Hydrocortisone, the most common side effects may include nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, diarrhea, and headaches.
It’s important to be aware of these side effects and contact your doctor if they become severe or persist.
What to Avoid While Taking Hydrocortisone?
While taking Hydrocortisone, you should avoid the following:
- Other topical steroids such as hydrocortisone acetate, fluocinolone acetonide, and clobetasol propionate.
- Alcohol – If you take Hydrocortisone tablets, alcohol can increase some of the side effects and it can be burdening on your liver.
- Live Vaccines: If you are on systemic hydrocortisone, especially at higher doses, you should avoid live vaccines. Hydrocortisone suppresses the immune system, which can make live vaccines riskier or less effective.
- Certain Medications: Hydrocortisone can interact with a variety of drugs. Inform your doctor about all the medicines you are taking, including prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and herbal products. Some medications might increase the effects of hydrocortisone, while others may decrease its effectiveness.
The listed things above are just some examples of things you should avoid and there may be more. Be sure to consult with a doctor about any other potential things you should avoid while taking Hydrocortisone.
How Long Does It Take for Hydrocortisone to Work?
When using Hydrocortisone creams or ointments, it usually takes a few hours to start noticing relief from itching and inflammation. Significant improvement may be observed within a few days.
When taken orally, Hydrocortisone takes anywhere from a few hours to a day.
It’s important to note that the effects of Hydrocortisone may be different for everyone and the actual time it takes to start experiencing symptom relief may vary.
It’s important to use Hydrocortisone cautiously and consistently as directed by your doctor to get the best results.
What Is the Typical Dosage for Hydrocortisone?
The typical dosage for Hydrocortisone cream or ointment will vary depending on the condition being treated.
Usually, Hydrocortisone creams contain 1% hydrocortisone and should be applied one to four times a day. For tablets, the usual dose is 20 to 240 milligrams (mg) a day.
The exact dosage should be discussed with your doctor and will vary depending on the condition being treated.
Follow all instructions from your doctor to avoid any potential side effects or complications. Never exceed the recommended dosage without consulting your doctor first. Doing this could cause an increase in side effects or even more serious issues.
Can You Buy Hydrocortisone Over-The-Counter (OTC)?
No, Hydrocortisone is not available over-the-counter in the United States. You will need to visit your doctor and get a prescription from them before you can buy this medication.
Can You Get Hydrocortisone Online?
Yes, you can get an online prescription for Hydrocortisone from DrHouse. DrHouse offers a convenient and fast on-demand telehealth service, which allows you to start a consultation with a doctor from the comfort of your home. Our doctors can diagnose your condition, create a tailored treatment plan for you, and prescribe medication like Hydrocortisone if needed.
How Do I Get an Online Prescription for Hydrocortisone?
Getting an online prescription is simple and fast with DrHouse. All you have to do is:
- Sign up
- Download our telehealth app
- Fill in your personal information
- Answer a few questions about your medical history
- Start an on-demand virtual visit with one of our healthcare providers
Once you have started the virtual visit, your provider will determine whether you are a good candidate for Hydrocortisone. If they deem it to be an appropriate treatment option for you, they will issue an online prescription which can then be filled at any pharmacy of your choice.
Can I Get a Refill for Hydrocortisone From DrHouse?
Yes, you can get a refill for Hydrocortisone from DrHouse. To refill your Hydrocortisone prescription, start an on-demand virtual visit with one of our healthcare providers. During the visit, they will assess your condition and determine if a refill is required.
If they deem it to be an appropriate treatment option for you, they will issue an online prescription which can then be filled at any pharmacy of your choice.
What Is DrHouse’s Prescription Refill Policy?
Our clinicians are able to prescribe up to a 90-day prescription for any previously prescribed medications, that are not classified as controlled substances. They use their medical judgment to determine whether to prescribe and the duration.
In certain cases, the prescription may be limited to 30 days. There also may be a 12-month cap for some prescriptions. For medications requiring annual monitoring (such as blood work or imaging), the maximum prescription limit is 90 days within a year.
What Are Some Other Medications Available for Treating Inflammation?
Along with Hydrocortisone, there are several other medications available to help reduce inflammation. The most common of these include:
These are just a few of the medications available for inflammation and there are many more. Consult with a doctor to figure out which one is best for you.