Steroids are hormones, either naturally occurring or synthetically made and administered, which have a very powerful overall control function in the body in one of three areas:

  • Stress - cortisol is the stress resisting hormone. It raises the blood sugar, resists shock, and mobilizes infection fighting cells. It is by far the most common type of steroid hormone given medicinally. Chemical names of such drugs that are chiefly used are:
    • prednisone
    • prednisolone
    • dexamethasone
  • Salt - salt retaining steroid hormones in the body maintain proper fluid and blood chemistry balance, and to some extent regulate blood pressure. These are only rarely used clinically.
  • Sex - testosterone- and estrogen-related compounds have a variety of uses (and to be sure a few abuses) in medicine and also in drug abuse. These are the "steroids" that have a bad name (deservedly so when misused for body-building, for example). They are NOT THE SAME AS the stress-type steroid hormone your doctor may want to prescribe for your child - do not be alarmed.

Because all the types of steroid hormones are so potent in their effects (and possible side-effects), your doctor will prescribe them cautiously in limited amounts for a limited time. She will discuss possible side effects with you, and you should take the medication exactly as prescribed. Luckily, children take such short courses of treatment for the ailments for which oral steroids are commonly prescribed (asthma flareups, poison ivy) that the elaborate tapering routines common for adults are unnecessary if the medication is given for 10 days or less1,2.

1. Cydulka RK, Emerman CL Journal of Emergency Medicine 1998;16:15.
2. Hatton MQ et al Respiratory Medicine 1995;89:101.

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