We often hear the word “steroid” and think about oral steroids such as prednisone or decadron. Yes, oral steroids are often used to treat COPD (which we will discuss!), but there are also inhaled steroids that are used to treat COPD as well.
Steroids are a highly effective treatment option for COPD because they reduce inflammation of the airways, which reduces swelling and decreases mucus production. This, in turn, makes breathing easier.
Inhaled steroids are often used for people with stable but worsening COPD. This type of COPD treatment can reduce the amount of COPD exacerbations. According to WebMD, research indicates that inhaled steroids can “improve lung function, reduce the amount of time in the hospital, and reduce the incidence of treatment failure.”
Examples of inhaled steroids include budesonide (Pulmicort) and fluticasone (Flovent HFA).
Oral steroids are also effective, in research studies. For some people, “they reduce the frequency of COPD exacerbations compared to a placebo. However, they may not improve lung function like their inhaled counterpart.
Examples of oral steroids include methylprednisolone (Medrol), prednisolone (Prelone), and prednisone.
All medications have side effects, but steroids are used cautiously because they do have a fairly long list of side effects. In addition, the side effects are more common the longer you are on the medication.
Side effects of inhaled steroids include:
- Sore mouth and/or a sore throat
- Thrush, which is a growth of a fungus in the mouth and/or the throat; using a spacer with the inhaler can reduce this side effect
Short-term side effects of oral steroids include:
- Elevated blood glucose levels
- Weight gain
- Fluid retention
- Loss of muscle mass
- Mood changes
- High blood pressure
Long-term side effects of oral steroids include:
- Recurrent infections
- Stomach ulcers
- Thin, fragile skin
- Type 2 diabetes
3. Combination Inhalers
Combination inhalers combine bronchodilators and inhaled steroids. These inhalers reduce inflammation and help prevent inflammation.
Side effects include bruising, oral infections and hoarseness. However, they are very useful for people with frequent COPD exacerbations.
Examples of combination inhalers include salmeterol and fluticasone (Advair) and formoterol and budesonide (Symbicort).