Say No to Steroid for Eczema

say no to steroid for eczema

We were like many other parents at the start of our eczema journey, looking for a quick fix, to take the rashes away, and make the itch disappear for our children. Fast forward 3 years, now our stand is very firm: we say NO to steroid for eczema, whether it’s topical or oral, it’s N-O, no. Unless put in a life-threatening situation in which steroid is required for survival, otherwise we have seen enough of this poison to last a lifetime.

What is a steroid

Steroid is the short form of corticosteroid. It is a manmade drug to mimic cortisol, which is a naturally-occuring hormone produced by our adrenal glands. The functions of cortisol are many, including regulating metabolism and our immune response, acting as an anti-inflammatory agent, helping our bodies deal with stress, and controlling salt and water balance.

So when we introduce a synthetic drug that so closely resembles an important hormone, it interferes with our bodies’ functioning at a core level. Our bodies are not made to be meddled with like that, at such a basic functional level. Challenge nature and be prepared to bear the consequences – an upheaval of our bodily functions that can get out of hand quite alarmingly.

The purpose of using topical steroid on eczema is to supporess inflammation. Rashes? Itch? Broken skin from scratching? Treat the symptoms. And if it goes away, pop a champagne to celebrate, pride yourself for having the wits to use steroid, recommend your dermatologist to all your friends, and everyone lives happily ever after.

It is something that we are all used to. We do not like to see children in pain or in distress. As the grownups in their lives, we are supposed to protect them. So with any abnormality that starts appearing on their skin, we jump up to fix it.

That was us, just 3 to 4 years ago.

We did not stop to think about what was causing the rashes and itching in the first place. Or maybe we did but attributed it to events that affected the skin directly, from the outside, more superficially. Like the construction work near our house, dustmites in school, frequency of changing bedsheets, harsh laundry detergent, etc.

So we did try to improve on a few things here and there, but there was no definitive answer. That was another major obstacle to eczema. It was so difficult to ascertain whether the condition was improved or made worse by something that we did or not. That was a big frustration. But the easiest way out was still steroid…

Steroid has worked before? Then steroid will work again. We kept going back to the same solution that had worked for us. Even when the problem kept coming back, we applied steroid without thinking twice.

Side effects of topical steroid

Oh but we were mindful of the side effects of topical steroid. We had done our fair bit of research, and we knew the harm that steroid can cause. Or so we thought.

If you read up on medical articles, on websites, and even from the mouths of doctors themselves, prolonged usage of steroid or using too high a potency can lead to thinning of skin. Hmmm… thinning of skin. Doesn’t sound all that bad, sounds like something I can live with. But since everyone is warning against it, we shall just apply a very very thin layer each time we use it.

And the duration of use was always very short, within 2-3 days of 2 applications each day, the itch and rashes would disappear. So into the cupboard would go the tube of steroid, until the next episode of rashes.

Skin specialists that we saw also told us that eczema is a chronic condition, and it is in the genes. My children can never be cured of it, we just have to manage it for the rest of their lives, with steroid and moisturiser.

Something didn’t feel right about this. But I didn’t really let it bother me at that time.

It’s a monster

Less than a year into the light, intermittent usage of steroid, the rashes had spread to the entire body of both my son, J, and daughter, M. On their arms and legs, neck, chest and back. It was just everywhere. The itch was getting worse, and they seemed to be in a continuous flare, an inflamed condition that was persistent and taking away the joy in their lives.

topical steroid withdrawal itch

It came to a stage when J would scratch continuously during his waking hours. His teacher in preschool was irritated by his behaviour and lack of focus, and kept urging us to do something about his skin. People around him, including us as his parents, kept telling him to stop scratching. This stressed him out emotionally, and made him scratch even more.

M was crying and screaming in pain for most of the day, digging away at her skin to try to get at the bone-deep itch. She demanded to be carried all day, and refused to be let down on the floor or chair to play. There was no play time, there was no childhood. She was consumed by this terrible itchy monster.

I didn’t have the wisdom to step back and take stock, and question that this wasn’t regular eczema anymore. I was just fighting fire all day, strained by M’s continuous fussing and crankiness, both mentally and emotionally. I was physically exhausted from the lack of sleep as M would be practically scratching the night away.

Looking back now, I wonder how we managed to survive those hellish months and still remain intact as sane individuals and as a family.

Topical steroid withdrawal

I told myself, I couldn’t be applying steroid on their entire bodies, everywhere. It was just not right. During one of my searches for answers, I came across the International Topical Steroid Addiction Network (ITSAN). It changed the course of our lives forever. If you are reading this and have a nagging feeling that maybe steroid isn’t the answer for you afterall, do hop over to the ITSAN website, there are loads and loads of information there that can possibly help you.

So after all this time, it finally dawned on me that steroid was doing more harm than good. We started off with small and manageable issues of rashes and tiny itch. It was probably the body’s way of telling us something within was out of balance. Give me back those tiny itch and rashes anytime, I’d take them with open arms rather than the monster we grew out of steroid.

Instead of listening and finding the root of the problem, we swept it under the carpet. We covered it with steroid, which pushed the problem deeper into the core of the body. The use of steroid also created another set of problems as adding synthetic hormones into our bodies cannot be good, hormones are too fundamental to mess around with. Just like we do not mess around with the Earth’s orbit around the Sun!

So the obvious next thing to do? Stop steroid. That would solve it, wouldn’t it?

Sigh… if only it was that simple. Stopping of steroid began our withdrawal journey, when things would get worse, for a while, before it got better. How long that while would be, varies from individual to individual.

So began the classic symptoms of topical steroid withdrawal:

  • Bone-deep itch
  • Flares that can last up to months, with inflamed skin
  • Nerve pain
  • Oozing of liquid through the skin
  • Skin flaking
  • That smell, how do you describe it? Soury… metallic…
  • Hot flashes, feeling the heat rising from inside your body and then breaking out in whole body sweat

Writing these in words doesn’t do justice to the people suffering from tsw. You have to watch it or experience it (but I’d certainly never wish this upon anyone) to understand the intensity of it all. My two kids are blessed in that what they went through was a relatively mild version of withdrawal, though it affected them bad enough.

There are people who are bed-ridden because of tsw, and there are people on whom it left deep psychological scars. It is a debilitating condition. But it is the way to go, there’s no short cut around it. We just have to believe that time will heal, no matter how tough it gets, how hopeless it feels, we have to trust that our body knows its way, as long as we treat it with respect and give it the best chance.

And what does the medical profession make of this? I must say, they take it quite seriously… in three words: thinning of skin.

I cannot take this. Every time I think of how anal they are in dismissing tsw and refusing to acknowledge its existence, my blood boils. But I really don’t want to swear on my own website…

So, let’s go practise some yoga or some zen.

Not down this path again, ever

Before I end off this post, I still want to take some moments to count our blessings.

To be thankful for never having applied any topical steroid on the kids’ face, otherwise their healing would have been tougher.

To be thankful that we have never subjected them to oral steroid.

And to be thankful that we’re now out of it, on the other side.

We still go through our good days and bad, they still flare when they eat the wrong food or breath the wrong air, but these are all manageable. We have lived through tsw, we can conquer any monster, overcome any obstacle.

To all my children: treat your body the way it deserves to be treated – with utmost respect, load it with all the goodness from nature. And never ever take the steroid path again, no matter what people say.

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20 thoughts on “Say No to Steroid for Eczema”

  1. That was informative post, preventing over usage of steroid cream. But unfortunately, it is available in almost every topical creams, and widely used as purpose of treating skin infections.

    but with good drug and good diet and lifestyle routine and complete course in medication duration can be best measure to treat skin disorders.

    • Hi Ganesh,
      Yes, you’re right. It takes a holistic approach, from diet to lifestyle to support from the medical profession, for us to treat this skin condition from the inside out, instead of simply covering up the symptoms.

  2. I have struggled with psoriasis for well over 20 years now, and at one time I was prescribed a steroid laced ointment. Although I saw improvement using it, I hated the idea of steroids so I stopped use shortly after getting it prescribed by a dermatologist. I still have flare ups, but watch my diet and stress levels to avoid them. I agree that steroids should only be used if absolutely necessary, and for me too this was not the case! I enjoyed this article! Thanks!!

    • Hi Amanda,
      I’m so happy for you that you knew steroids are bad, and stopped using them! You’re so right that managing stress also has a direct link to skin flare ups. I wish you all the best in managing your psoriasis through natural means.

  3. I must say this is very good and informative post. I looked your site you literally brought up high quality and useful content for the readers. I do really appreciate your work. I will share your post with my friends and family members. Well done !!

    • Hi Amy,
      Thank you for dropping by! For moisturizer, we love the Australian brand – Moogoo. It is very natural, using edible oils. It is also fragrance free and paraben free. In fact, I just used it moments ago on my son.

  4. Hey Joo,
    You are so right! I suffered and am still suffering from eczema. I was prescribed a steroid cream and slowly watch it go from just being on one spot on my arms to spreading throughout my entire body.
    Ii hear diet is the way to go but It’s much harder to integrate a new lifestyle than to just buy a cream. Double edged sword I must say

    • Hi Dwight,
      Yeah it certainly is a double edged sword. I remember how we used to jump up and get the steroid creams at the first sign of itch or inflammation. Its ‘miraculous’ effect made us really pleased with it. But now we know better. And yes, withdrawal and healing from inside out is the way to go, but got to be mentally prepared that it gets worse before it gets better.

  5. Hi Joo, I am so sorry your children had to go through this! That sounds extremely painful and I am glad it was never applied to their faces. Hopefully this will help prevent others from having to go through TSW!

    • Hi Mollie,
      Thanks for dropping by! Yes, I certainly hope this article can reach out to people who are using or are considering using steroid for their eczema. It is a painful journey that no one should have to go through.

  6. When my daughter was born I was in a rotational program and we spent a lot of time driving, and we went through 20 states in her first year (most we just drove through). She had horrible eczema on her foot and her face (to the point they would ooze and bleed constantly). Because we were traveling so much no doctor was wiling to look into it very much, but none of them would give us a steroid either.

    They all thought is was because her body was having a hard time adjusting to the climate changes, but that wasn’t it at all. She was formula feed because my wife has difficulties producing enough milk. It turns out that almost all formula contains the same enzymes that cow milk does.

    About a month before her first birthday a doctor finally gave us a steroid. We did the same as you. Putting it on 2-3 times a day and watch the magic happen. When she turned one we switched her to cow milk and found out rather quickly that she was either allergic to the cow enzyme or lactose intolerant. Things got very messy.

    We changed her diet and the need for steroids went away. I agree that we need to find the cause and make changes. I didn’t know this was a possibility with steroids. I’m glad my family was able to dodge this bullet. Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Hi Steve,
      Thank you so much for sharing your daughter’s story here too! You’re really lucky that the doctors refused to give her steroid when she was just an infant. And kudos to you and your wife for getting to the root of the problem. Keep believing the miracles that our bodies are. When there’s an issue, it will show up as symptoms. Get to the root instead of simply covering up the symptoms.

  7. Hello,

    My husband and I both have skin issues and I have found the same thing that steroids seem so easy but don’t work long term and have scary side effects.

    In my case I found I had estrogen dominance which can cause horrible itching. It is not really the skin that is itching but the nerves deep down. When I addressed that problem, the itching went away! I supplement with natural progesterone to counteract the estrogen (which we get from plastics and many other pollutants and drugs). Zinc is also very helpful for all skin conditions. I take liquid zinc drops in water but only use a small dose since they are very strong. If I have a bad time with itching occasionally now, I use an ice pack to cool it down. That almost always works.

    Thank you for sharing this very important information!

    • Hi Jessica,
      Estrogen dominance causing itching and skin issues is something I have not heard of so far. May I know how you tested for it? What kind of supplementing do you use to get the natural progesterone?
      Yes I totally understand what you mean by it’s not the skin that is itching. It is deep inside, something that my eczema kids would try to get at by clawing at their skin and flesh. We do use zinc balm, and sometimes even nappy rash cream when we run out of balm. It certainly helps, especially for weeping spots. Zinc drops is something we’ve never tried, will go look into it. Thank you!

  8. Hello again Joo,

    I must admit I was never tested for the estrogen dominance. I have so many conditions, I get worn out trying to “prove” I have them all! The list is long. I just did a lot of research and thought it sounded like exactly what I have. I have told my doctors what I determined and about the progesterone I use and they seem to think I should keep using it. They have not actually tested me however. The effects of the progesterone are AMAZING. It has made all the difference in the world for the itching. The itching started when I was very young. I don’t even remember how old I was but it probably started around my early teens I guess. It was debilitating and the only thing that worked (that I had access to) was cold. I would stand outside and run the hose with cold water on my legs and numb them.

    So, when I discovered that estrogen dominance caused night sweats (which I had terribly in my late 20’s and early 30’s) as well as the nerve itching and other problems, I decided to try the recommended treatment of natural progesterone to balance out the estrogen. It also helps to try to eliminate exposure to estrogens as well but that can be hard with environmental pollution in water, food (from plastics) etc.

    I use progesterone cream. This is not something that requires a prescription. I use Life-Flo brand Progestacare cream. It comes in a pump bottle so you know how much you are getting. There is a set amount of progesterone in each pump. I did my own research and found that using just a small amount of progesterone can actually exacerbate the estrogen problems so it is best to use a high dosage to start with. I did that and did not have any of the symptoms reported when people start with low doses. I am not a doctor but I have to say I am very glad I did my own research on this. I used a much higher dose than the recommended standard and had no problems at all. I use 5 pumps a day and each pump is 20 mg of progesterone so I get 120 mg per day. I used more to start with to get my levels up but 5 per day is good for me now.

    The progesterone comes from wild yam. No synthetic hormones. There are other forms of this cream from the same brand that also have estrogen (make sure you don’t get that one!), testosterone etc. There are other brands as well but I have not used them. I will be doing a review of this product on my website.


    • Hi Jessica,
      Wow thank you for your detailed reply. I really really appreciate the time and effort you took to write back. This is precious to me, and is something new that I have never looked into. I will certainly research more about estrogen dominance, and consult our homeopathy doctor at the same time, to see what she thinks, whether my two eczema kids have this. Also, thank you for recommending the brand of natural progesterone that you are taking, and for cautioning me about other hormones by the same brand. I will certainly look into it too.
      God bless you, and please stay healthy.

  9. It seems less likely that kids would have estrogen dominance but I don’t know much about that. The dosage of progesterone would be lower for kids of course as well and the dosage depends on the severity of the estrogen dominance to start with.

    Thanks, I hope you find solutions.

    • Thank you, I will tread carefully, don’t worry. Will consult some trusted practitioner before I give them anything hormonal, it’s not something to be taken lightly.


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