The many types of steroids, that are made naturally in our bodies, are made by two small glands called adrenal glands which sit above the kidneys. Steroids produced by the adrenal glands are also made artificially.

Corticosteroids are nothing to do with anabolic steroids, used illegally by some athletes and bodybuilders. They are also different to female hormones, such as those used in the contraceptive pill and hormone replacement therapy.

Steroids can be given topically or systemically.

Topically – medication is delivered directly to where the illness is. For this purpose inhalers are used which are the main treatment for asthma. Very little gets into the blood stream so there are few side-effects. Because topical drugs can only travel a short distance into the diseased area they won’t work as well when the inflammation is severe. Inhaled steroids benefit asthma because they are mainly for diseases of the airways.

Asthma and steroids

Since asthma is usually a long-term condition you often need daily long-term inhaled steroids. These steroids help your cough disappear and help to keep your airways open. If treatment is stopped inflammation will resume.

Common inhaled steroids include beclomethasone, budesonide and fluticasone.

Systemically - the medication travels to the area of the disease and can be given either by tablet or injection.

Systemic drugs are used when topical medication is not able to treat the disease fully. The commonest steroid tablet is prednisolone.

Steroid tablets can make you feel hungrier. If you take steroid tablets on a long-term basis you need regular checks with your doctor to see whether:

  • your diagnosis is right
  • the disease has become less active or inactive
  • the dose can be reduced by adding in other medication
  • you should receive a regular test for osteoporosis

You should also:

  • not stop taking them suddenly
  • carry a ‘steroid card’ around with you at all times
  • consult your doctor if you have an infection or you are undergoing an operation

Information contained in this Articles page has been written by talkhealth based on available medical evidence. Our evidence-based articles are certified by the Information Standard and our sources are available on request. The content is not, though, written by medical professionals and should never be considered a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek medical advice before changing your treatment routine. talkhealth does not endorse any specific products, brands, or treatments.

Information written by the talkhealth team

Last revised: 6 December 2012

Next review: 13 December 2014