Hydrocortisone: Are there potential side effects?

Hydrocortisone is a safe steroid that is available over-the-counter or prescribed if a stronger variant is needed. Generally, it is used to manage itchy skin rashes due to skin conditions such as insect bites, eczema, poison ivy reaction or allergic reactions.

Make sure that the instructions on the packaging are carefully followed. This ensures a lower risk for ending up with any undesirable side effects. In case the rash becomes persistent or seems to worsen, a doctor must be consulted.

Itchiness and burning sensation

Even though hydrocortisone is used for itchiness, most do not know that it can also trigger itching. This reaction most often arises due to hypersensitivity which arises as a rash, specifically allergic contact dermatitis.

If the individual ends up with itchiness or the rash becomes worse, stop using hydrocortisone since he/she might be allergic. A burning sensation at the site where it is applied might occur but this is usually brief.


Even though hydrocortisone is used for itchiness, most do not know that it can also trigger itching.

Discolored skin

Prolonged and frequent use of hydrocortisone might cause changes to the skin or even lose its color due to hypopigmentation or telangiectasia. When it comes to hypopigmentation, there is fading of the skin while telangiectasia is characterized as long-lasting dilation or widening of the capillaries which leads to reddened blotches on the skin.

The discoloration typically occurs around the area being treated. This can be prevented by applying the ointment sparingly and limit application only on the affected areas.


The ointment might also cause atrophy or thinning of the skin. Frequent or heavy application, overuse or covering the site of application increases the risk for this effect.

Hydrocortisone should only be applied as a thin layer on the affected areas and avoid covering the site since it causes the skin to soften due to the excess moisture.

Secondary skin infections

Hydrocortisone also lowers the immune response of the body which heightens the risk for developing infections. At the same time, other effects such as atrophy and softening of the skin can disrupt with the skin’s integrity and increases the risk for secondary bacterial or fungal infections.

If the ointment is applied on oozing or weeping rash or on broken skin, the risk for infection increases.


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