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. OCS should not be confused with 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 OCS 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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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.

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

How do I monitor my daily asthma symptoms?

National asthma guidelines suggest using a daily symptom diary such as Allergy & Asthma Network’s AsthmaTracker™ to keep track of symptoms, peak expiratory flow rates (if you or your child use a peak flow meter) and medications used.

What is an AsthmaTracker?

The AsthmaTracker™ can help your track how well your symptoms respond to your treatment plan. By writing down your symptoms, peak expiratory flow rate and medication use each day, you’ll notice a pattern to your symptoms and develop strategies to stop the symptoms before they can stop you.

What is a peak flow meter?

A peak flow meter is a handheld device that measures the peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR), or how much air you can forcibly push out of your lungs at a particular time.

Asthma Storylines – an app for managing asthma

The free Asthma Storylines app is a self-care tool for managing asthma. Track symptoms, learn more about daily patterns and record topics to discuss with your healthcare team.

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Image of doctor holding up phone towards camera. The phone has the Asthma Storyline app on it.