Person looking in the mirror at herself but with a chipmunk's head

Chipmunk Cheeks From a Corticosteroid Inhaler?

I am on a Zoom call and am looking at myself on video. Who is that person with the Chipmunk Cheeks?!

What is wrong with my face?

I could not do anything during my Zoom call except adjust myself so I was sitting on an angle. My face looked a little better that way rather than straight on.

After the meeting, I weighed myself, and I have not gained any weight. So, my face should not be bigger due to any weight gain.

What’s going on with my chipmunk cheeks?

As I went about my day, I wondered about what could be causing the swelling. Then I remembered the extra corticosteroid inhaler that I am taking.

Asthma Doc wanted me to try something new with my cranky lungs. She knew that I was really sick the last time I got Covid, so she wanted to try a new tactic. She prescribed another controller inhaler to add to my daily controller inhaler to see if I could avoid needing prednisone.

Spoiler alert: the generic version of this new inhaler was $200 – after insurance. Not kidding.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to get the extra inhaler. I mean, do you know how many groceries I can buy for $200?! My pharmacist looked at me and basically said that I should probably buy it. She knows our whole family has severe asthma and is often at the pharmacy getting controller inhalers, albuterol inhalers, and albuterol for our nebulizers.

Fine. I’ll pay the stupid $200 – but this better work!

I’m one of those people with severe asthma that needs to take a dose from my daily controller inhaler every morning and every night. If I run out and forget to refill it, my lungs let me know! They are cranky little jerks.

Adding a corticosteroid inhaler to my asthma medication routine

I have not had any side effects from my existing inhaler, so why did the extra controller inhaler make my cheeks puffy? Then I realized it is because I am using high doses (4 puffs morning and night).

Asthma Doc told me to start using the additional inhaler as soon as I felt like I was getting sick. She wanted to see if 2 controller inhalers would make my lungs behave.

I was hoping it would work and I could avoid prednisone. Prednisone is strong stuff – using it can lead to a very long list of side effects, including:1

  • Eye pain or swelling
  • Loss of bone density
  • Sleep problems

If I can avoid using prednisone, I’m all for it! So I decided to try the extra controller inhaler.

Was it worth it?

Did it work? Well, I did not end up in the emergency room (ER) – or needing prednisone, so I will count that as a win. My breathing was definitely better using the additional inhaler.

I was so focused on my lungs that I did not notice my cheeks at first. When I did, I searched online to see if controller inhalers can lead to facial swelling, also known as Chipmunk Cheeks, and it was right there in black and white on the page. Ugh.

Even with the high dose I am on, at least I'm not on prednisone. Since you swallow prednisone, it goes through your stomach and blood and makes its way to your lungs, heart, brain, bones, etc. So I will stick with the inhalers, thanks. I am hoping now that my lungs have calmed down, I can quit taking the extra inhaler.

Until then, I may be signing my emails as Andrea, AKA Chipmunk Cheeks.

Has anyone else experienced a similar side effect from using a corticosteroid inhaler as part of their asthma treatment? How long did it last? Share your story with the community by clicking the button below.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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