Oral Corticosteroids (OCS) for Asthma

What are oral corticosteroids for asthma ?

Oral corticosteroids (OCS), often referred to as oral steroids, is a medicine to treat severe or uncontrolled asthma. Oral corticosteroids, also know as oral steroids, are available in pill or liquid form. Oral steroids are not the same as  anabolic steroids used in body building or inhaled corticosteroids (ICS), which have fewer risks.

Why are oral steroids used for asthma?

Oral steroids are an inexpensive medication and can quickly reduce inflammation in the airways.

When can I stop oral corticosteroid treatment?

Typically your doctor will prescribe a course (or burst) of OCS for a few days at a time. Very few patients are required to take daily OCS long term to control asthma symptoms.

How do I know if I am using oral steroids too often?

If you are needing two or more courses of oral steroids in a 12-month period, you should speak with your doctor about other treatment options for your asthma. Use of two or more courses of oral steroids in a 12-month period is an indication of poor asthma control.

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Quick 3-5 minute videos on asthma, allergies, and related conditions.

What are the side effects of oral steroids used for asthma?

While oral steroids are often prescribed for severe asthma and has benefits, overuse of OCS can jeopardize long-term health.

OCS use has a cumulative effect on a person over their lifetime and overreliance can cause significant side effects. These include:

  • Cataracts (clouding of the lens of the eye)
  • Weight gain, high blood sugar, can trigger or worsen diabetes
  • Increased risk of infections
  • Thinning bones and fractures
  • Slow growth in children
  • Thin skin, bruising and slower wound healing
  • Mood swings, depression, aggressive behavior

People using OCS should be aware of and watchful for side effects and always discuss any side effects with their physician once therapy is started. People with asthma should also:

  • Ask their doctor for a blood test to determine their type of asthma
  • Find out if alternative treatments are available · Balance the risks vs. benefits of taking OCS in a shared decision with their doctor

What is OCS Overexposed?

OCS Overexposed is a national education campaign developed in collaboration with more than 10 patient advocacy and medical societies to raise awareness of appropriate OCS use and reveal OCS overuse for what it often is – a treatment plan that is no longer working. The campaign has also developed the Oral Corticosteroid Stewardship Statement.

Image from the OCS website that says: Do you know the truth about OCS?
Click to go to OCS Overexposed Website for video and other resources.

There are several asthma assessment tools you can use to determine if your asthma is in control or not:

Rules of Two

Asthma Control Test

for adults

Asthma Control Test

for children ages 4 to 11 years and teens 12 and older

Asthma Control & Severity Assessment Tool

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Download Our Free “Understanding Asthma” Guide