Steroid Shots for Allergy Symptom Control

It can be easy to confuse the two types of steroids: anabolic and corticosteroids. Anabolic steroids are known as performance-enhancing drugs that are similar to the hormone testosterone. This type of prescription medication increases muscle mass while decreasing fat. Corticosteroids, on the other hand, mimic another set of hormones, cortisone, and cortisol, that come from the adrenal cortex of the adrenal gland. Cortisone does not cause muscle mass gain but has effects on the body that include reducing the inflammatory response and suppressing immune system's response.

A woman receiving an injection
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The Use of Synthetic Corticosteroids

Corticosteroid medications are synthetic versions of a natural hormone. These medications are used for a variety of reasons and for that reason are available in different ways including inhalers, injections, lotions, and oral formulations (pill, liquid, etc.).

The form of the corticosteroid used will depend on the diagnosis. For example, you would use an inhaled version to treat asthma or COPD, while using a lotion to treat eczema. You would receive an injection into a joint, like a knee or hip, to reduce inflammation and relieve pain. Oral medications may be used to treat lupus or multiple sclerosis.

Corticosteroids can be used to treat a variety of illnesses, however, it is very important that you follow your healthcare provider's instructions.

Are Steroids a Good Option for Controlling Allergy Symptoms?

Not really, at least not for most of us. While it's true that steroids can suppress allergy symptoms for a little while, they have multiple side effects which make them a poor choice. Steroids work by suppressing our immune system since allergies are caused by an over-reaction of our immune system it makes sense that steroids can stop allergy symptoms. In fact, when individuals have dangerous allergic reactions to foods or bee stings, steroids combined with epinephrine can help prevent complications with breathing.

For chronic allergy sufferers, however, they make a poor choice. First of all, because they literally weaken your immune system long-term use of steroids makes you susceptible to infection; that's just one of several nasty side effects. Steroid shots may also become less effective over time for some of us, they'll work great at first but then the effects might wane.

Immunotherapy or allergy shots are a better choice. So are antihistamines, and trigger avoidance. For those that have not had success with these treatments, steroid shots may be an option to control their symptoms during the worst times of the year. For example, someone suffering from ragweed allergies might benefit from a steroid shot when this plant starts to bloom. While nasal corticosteroid sprays are extremely effective and safe medications for the long term treatment of nasal allergies. 

Side-Effects of Corticosteroid Use

Side-effects related to corticosteroid use can be differentiated based on the length of use. Short-term use of steroids can lead to feelings of being jittery, weight-gain and water retention, sleep difficulties, and thrush (yeast) in the mouth. Long-term use can lead to growth delays in children, poor bone structure, osteoporosis or fracture, muscular weakness, diabetes, cataracts, glaucoma, and increased susceptibility to infection.

If you take steroids for any significant period of time your body experiences adrenal insufficiency and stopping them abruptly can be dangerous. For these and other reasons allergists generally reserve steroid shots only for treatment-resistant allergy sufferers, and even then many healthcare providers limit the number of steroid shots you can get to two a year.

When prescribed corticosteroids for a longer period of time, your healthcare provider will give you a taper or weaning schedule. It is important to follow these directions closely to prevent any major complications like dangerously low blood pressure. Some injectable corticosteroids last only a few days, while some may last for months. Your healthcare provider may suggest other methods of allergy control if need be.

5 Sources
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Additional Reading

By Kristin Hayes, RN
Kristin Hayes, RN, is a registered nurse specializing in ear, nose, and throat disorders for both adults and children.