Corticosteroids may be applied directly onto the mucous membranes (topically) as a nasal spray or taken by mouth (orally). Oral corticosteroids are used only rarely to treat sinusitis.
How It Works
Corticosteroids are a group of medicines that reduce or prevent inflammation of the nasal mucous membranes by altering the actions of various cells of the immune system.
Why It Is Used
Corticosteroids are used to treat sinusitis. But when you have acute sinusitis (symptoms for less than 4 weeks), corticosteroids might be tried for a short time if you have:1
Tried other treatment but it has not helped.
Polyps within your nose.
Severe swelling within the nose (mucous membrane).
Corticosteroids may be used to treat chronic sinusitis (symptoms have lasted 12 weeks or longer) that is complicated by allergies or by growths in the mucous membrane (nasal polyps).
How Well It Works
Corticosteroids are likely to reduce symptoms of sinusitis.2 Corticosteroids are generally effective in reducing swelling, and they probably help sinusitis by reducing swelling of the mucous membranes. They may also reduce the size of nasal polyps.
Corticosteroid treatment cannot cure viral or bacterial sinusitis, but it can relieve the symptoms.
All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.
Here are some important things to think about:
Usually the benefits of the medicine are more important than any minor side effects.
Side effects may go away after you take the medicine for a while.
If side effects still bother you and you wonder if you should keep taking the medicine, call your doctor. He or she may be able to lower your dose or change your medicine. Do not suddenly quit taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to.
Call 911 or other emergency services right away if you have:
Swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.
Call your doctor if you have:
Signs of an infection, such as nose, sinus, or sore throat drainage.
Belly pain, nausea, or vomiting that won't go away.
Bloody or black, tarry stools.
Rapid weight gain.
Changes in your eyes, including blurred vision or eye pain.
Muscle cramps, pain, or weakness.
Changes in your skin, including acne or reddish purple lines.
Increased thirst, especially with frequent urination.
Bloody mucus or unexplained nosebleeds.
Common side effects of oral corticosteroids include:
Nervousness or restlessness.
Common side effects of inhaled corticosteroids include:
Burning, dryness, or irritation inside the nose.
Increase in sneezing.
Irritation of the throat.
See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)
What To Think About
Corticosteroids are not the kind of steroids used for muscle building. People do not "bulk up" when using corticosteroids.
Nasal sprays containing corticosteroids cause few side effects and do not lead to swelling of the membrane that lines the nose and sinuses when you stop taking them (rebound congestion).
Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.
There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.
Advice for women
If you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant, do not use any medicines unless your doctor tells you to. Some medicines can harm your baby. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbs, and supplements. And make sure that all your doctors know that you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
Joint Council of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (2005). The diagnosis and management of sinusitis: A practice parameter update. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 116(6 Suppl): S13–S47.
Ah-See K (2011). Sinusitis (acute), search date June 2011. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence. Also available online: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.
The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.