Corticophobia or Fear of Corticosteroids

The fear of corticosteroids has been increasing for the past few decades. These medicines can have various important side effects, but they often happen when you don't take the correct dose, or you use them for a prolonged period.
Corticophobia or Fear of Corticosteroids
Leonardo Biolatto

Written and verified by the doctor Leonardo Biolatto.

Last update: 01 August, 2022

Corticophobia, or fear of corticosteroids, can be defined as fear and rejection of a specific type of medication: corticosteroids. This happens more often when these substances are used as a cream to treat atopic dermatitis in children

According to some statistics, between 20 and 83% of patients with atopic dermatitis are afraid of corticosteroids. The range is very wide, but as you can see, it sometimes covers most users.

The most striking part is that there are also a good number of health professionals who are also afraid of corticosteroids. However, these medicines, although they can cause side effects in specific cases, are also the best option to treat many different conditions. Likewise, there are many myths that fuel corticophobia.

What are corticosteroids?

Human beings secrete corticosteroids naturally, through the adrenal glands and using cholesterol molecules. Through this process, your body makes two types of corticosteroids, also known as corticoids. Additionally, all of these natural substances serve infinite functions, among which metabolizing carbohydrates and proteins, and regulating the immune system and stress responses stand out.

The first type of these natural corticosteroids contains 21 carbon atoms. These are also divided into two groups. The first group is glucocorticoids, among we can find cortisol or hydrocortisone. The second group is mineralocorticoids, among which there is aldosterone.

The second group of corticosteroids that the body produces are ones that have 19 carbon atoms. These make up hormones like androgens and estrogens.

Synthetic corticosteroids  are medications that simulate the function of natural corticosteroids. While they copy the function of these hormones, they are also much more potent than natural corticosteroids. For this reason, they’re used to treat diverse afflictions like dermatitis, rhinitis, asthma, or psoriasis.

You might be interested in: What’s Atopic Dermatitis?

Woman using inhaler.
Inhaled corticosteroids are often used for asthma.

Side effects of corticosteroids

Generally, if you use corticosteroids correctly, with the proper dose and for a short time, it’s very rare that you’ll experience side effects. However, side effects can appear if you don’t follow the mentioned guidelines, and use them beyond the limits recommended by medical science.

Some side effects of corticosteroids are listed below:

  • Weight gain: they cause liquid retention and change the metabolizing of lipids, which can cause an abnormal distribution of fat in the body. However, this effect only happens after prolonged use.
  • Skin conditionsyour skin can become thinner and more fragile; stretch marks, telangiectasias or dilation of blood vessels can occur; you might lose color in your skin, or hypopigmentation; hypertrichosis, or excess hair in abnormal places; and acneiform eruptions.
  • Increase in your blood glucose concentration: corticosteroids change your glucose metabolism, and eventually cause increases in blood sugar.

There are reports of increased blood pressure and an increased risk of suffering osteoporosis. It also increases the risk of contracting infections, causing nervousness and mood swings, and can also influence the development of cataracts.

Hands squeezing out corticosteroid cream from a tube.
Corticophobia is more prevalent in patients with atopic dermatitis that need to use corticosteroid creams almost daily.

Discover more: Home Recipe that Regulates Blood Sugar and Cholesterol


All of these possible side effects are what cause corticophobia. However, as we already mentioned, when you use these medications with the correct dosage and for the proper length of time, it’s very unlikely that you’ll see those side effects.

In most cases, the harmful effects only appear after prolonged use over several years. For this reason, the response to these risks shouldn’t be an irrational fear, but a responsible use of these medications, taking every precaution when using them.

Just as there are evident risks, several baseless myths have also appeared. One of them says that these medicines stop children’s brain development. There’s no scientific evidence to back up this belief, but, even so, many people think it’s true and it increases their fear of corticosteroids.

Keep in mind

It’s important to properly use medications, and to know the side effects to be able to prevent them. However, the problem with the fear of corticosteroids is that it causes some people to avoid this medication at all costs, hindering or preventing treatment of certain diseases.

Being prudent is one thing, but fear based on prejudices and not facts is completely different. It’s always prudent to talk to a medical professional to remove any doubts.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Capdevila, E. F. (2004). Fobias y filias en el tratamiento con corticoides tópicos. Piel, 19(8), 405-6.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.