Misconceptions Surrounding Inhaled Corticosteroid Medication

Last updated: July 2020

There are many misconceptions surrounding inhaled corticosteroid use in the management of asthma.

Misconception #1: Inhaled corticosteroids are the same as anabolic steroids

One common misconception is that inhaled corticosteroids are the same as anabolic steroids that athletes use to help build muscle and increase strength and stamina. Corticosteroids do not do either of these things. They reduce the amount of inflammation in the airways. Corticosteroids are hormones that are naturally produced by your body. When warranted, your doctor will prescribe a much smaller amount of the same hormone to help reduce the inflammation in your lungs to keep your asthma under control.

Misconception #2: Only severe asthmatics need to take corticosteroids

Another misconception is that only severe asthmatics need to take inhaled corticosteroids. This is not the case. Even mild to moderate asthmatics can use them to help keep asthma under better control and reduce the number of asthma flare-ups. There are many different strengths and types of inhaled corticosteroids that can be used to reduce airway inflammation. And inhaled corticosteroids do not have the same side effects as oral corticosteroids, such as prednisone.

Oral corticosteroids are vastly more potent and therefore tend to have more side effects rather than the inhaled ones. One burst of oral prednisone, for example, is the equivalent of an entire year's worth of regular daily inhaled corticosteroid use. Even high doses of inhaled corticosteroids do not come close to the dose of oral ones. If your doctor prescribes inhaled corticosteroids, it doesn't necessarily mean that you will be on that particular does forever.

Misconception #3: Don't change your asthma medication

Asthma is a disease that can change over time. If you're on a high dose of an inhaled corticosteroid during a particularly bad flare-up or season, there is the possibility of stepping down to a lower dose when your asthma is in better control or vice versa. As always, never attempt to taper or stop your asthma medications without medical supervision. I've had many people tell me that they are nervous about starting or changing their inhaled corticosteroids because they fear that they will become addicted to the medication. This simply isn't the case. The fact is that just like washing your face in the evening or morning, taking inhaled corticosteroids are not addictive, but more of a good habit.

Misconception #4: Rescue inhalers are better than inhaled corticosteroids

Sometimes I'm told that an asthmatic would rather take the rescue inhaler more frequently over the possible side effects from inhaled corticosteroids they had been falsely led to believe. The truth is that taking a short-acting rescue inhaler such as albuterol is nearly putting a temporary Band-Aid on a wound that will fall off quickly before the wound heals. It doesn't address the underlying issue of asthma, which is inflammation which is what inhaled corticosteroids helps to fix.

Inhaled corticosteroids aren't something to be feared. If your doctor prescribes them for you to use, it is because they believe that it will help better control your asthma symptoms and leave you with a vastly improved quality of life.

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