Eczema is a common condition that causes patches of dry, itchy, and irritated skin. Some people with eczema find relief in oral or topical steroid treatments.

More than 1 in 10 people in the United States have eczema. From itchy skin to open sores, the symptoms of eczema can have a significant impact on a person’s quality of life.

People with eczema can take preventive measures to stop sores from appearing or worsening. However, even with a careful skin care routine, flare-ups can still happen from time to time.

Many people find that steroid treatments help their eczema. A doctor can prescribe topical steroids, which people put directly on the skin, and oral steroids, which they take by mouth.

This article explores the types of steroids available to treat eczema, their risks and benefits, and alternative eczema treatments.

An eczema steroid cream, which can be used to treat flare ups.Share on Pinterest
Tim Grist Photography/Getty Images

Eczema usually comes and goes in waves. Sometimes, it can flare up, which is when a person’s eczema symptoms return. These may include extreme itching, cracked skin, or oozing patches on the skin’s surface.

When flare-ups do occur, steroid treatments can help people manage their symptoms.

Steroids are an artificial version of the hormones the body naturally produces. They reduce inflammation and can treat a variety of conditions.

Two main types of steroids treat eczema flare-ups: topical and oral.

An eczema flare-up can affect a person’s everyday life. The discomfort can make it hard to sleep and focus, and some people may feel self-conscious due to the appearance of their skin.

Environmental factors often trigger flare-ups. Although eczema triggers vary from person to person, some of the most common ones include:

  • irritants, such as perfume or disinfectants
  • stressful situations
  • intense workouts
  • bacterial infections
  • changes in the weather
  • food allergies

It is not always possible to avoid potential triggers. As people learn more about their eczema, they can try to stay away from their primary triggers.

Topical steroids are anti-inflammatory and inhibit immune cells in the skin. They constrict the blood vessels, reducing swelling, itching, and discomfort. A person applies them directly to the skin.

A recent study found that 68–70% of participants with eczema saw an improvement in their symptoms after 12 weeks of topical steroid treatment. For some participants, symptoms improved within 1 week. Symptom relief continued for up to 4 weeks after the treatment ended.

How do topical steroids work?

Topical steroids are available in several different forms. These include:

  • gels
  • ointments
  • solutions
  • lotions and creams
  • foams

A doctor will prescribe the appropriate strength topical steroid for a person’s needs. They also advise them how much to apply, how often to apply it, and for how long.

Some steroids are stronger than others, and there are seven different classes that define steroid potency (strength). These classes range from “superpotent” to “least potent.”

High-potency steroids work on areas with thick skin, such as the palms or soles. Low-potency steroids are best for treating larger surface areas of skin.

A doctor can recommend the best steroid form and potency for a person’s eczema.

Benefits and limitations of topical steroid treatments

People can use topical steroids to treat flare-ups once they occur. They may also use them intermittently to prevent future flare-ups.

However, people should not use topical steroids long term. Using a topical steroid for too long can cause skin thinning, stretch marks, and rosacea.

Research has shown that topical steroids have few negative effects when used short term. Side effects include itching and burning.

A person typically takes oral steroids by mouth. However, they are also available as an injection.

Prednisone is one of the most common oral steroids. It can help treat extreme cases of eczema by reducing inflammation in the body. It can also treat conditions such as arthritis or asthma.

How do oral steroids work?

Oral steroids enter the body and latch on to specific cell receptors. This process reduces the body’s inflammatory response, which can provide quick relief from an eczema flare-up.

Most oral steroids come in pill form. These pills can offer an immediate or delayed release of the medication.

Although oral steroids can relieve symptoms, they are not intended for regular use.

Benefits and limitations of oral steroid treatments

Many doctors agree that oral steroids are a useful option for treating eczema flare-ups in the short term. However, doctors do not recommend them for long-term eczema treatment.

Some people who use oral steroids may experience adverse side effects, including:

Like topical steroids, oral steroids may offer benefits for people with eczema who take them for a short time. But for long-term eczema treatment, many other options can provide symptom relief.

Many people manage their eczema with skin care, home remedies, and lifestyle habits.

No eczema treatment works for everyone. Each case of eczema is unique and depends on the individual.

Some eczema management strategies and treatments include:

Skin care

People with eczema should avoid heavily perfumed and fragranced soaps, lotions, and other skin care products. Using a fragrance-free ointment can help eczema because it has a lower water content than cream and lotion.


Phototherapy involves exposing the skin to UV light to help reduce itching and inflammation. While treatment can benefit eczema, people must take care to prevent sunburn and tender skin.

Learn more about phototherapy and eczema here.

Home remedies

Although the research supporting home remedies varies, many people find success through trial and error. Some popular home remedies for eczema include:

Learn more about home remedies for eczema here.

People with eczema should contact a doctor. For people with mild to moderate eczema, a primary care physician can help them create a management plan.

However, individuals with severe eczema may need to see a dermatologist or allergist.

A doctor can help a person identify lifestyle factors and potential triggers that may be causing their eczema to worsen. They can also prescribe non-steroid medications, such as pimecrolimus, tacrolimus, risaborole, Dupixent. Sometimes, a doctor might prescribe immunosuppressant drugs, such as cyclosporin and methotrexate.

Eczema is a common condition causing dry, flaky, inflamed skin. Taking topical and oral steroids can help people manage eczema flare-ups.

Typically, people should only use steroids for short-term eczema treatment. Skin care, lifestyle changes, and non-steroid medications can help people manage their eczema long term.

By researching their options and consulting with a doctor, people with eczema can take steps toward better health.