Locally administered ocular corticosteroids: benefits and risks

Drug Saf. 2002;25(1):33-55. doi: 10.2165/00002018-200225010-00004.


Corticosteroids, used prudently, are one of the most potent and effective modalities available in the treatment of ocular inflammation. However, they can produce a plethora of adverse ocular and systemic events. In order to optimise and target drug delivery, whilst minimising systemic adverse effects, a diverse range of local ophthalmic preparations and delivery techniques have been developed. Topical drops and ointments remain the primary methods for administration of ocular corticosteroids. However, ocular penetration of topical corticosteroid drops depends upon drug concentration, chemical formulation of corticosteroid, and composition of the vehicle, therefore, apparently small modifications in preparations can produce a more than 20-fold difference in intraocular drug concentration. Periocular injections of corticosteroids continue to have a useful, but limited, therapeutic role and longer acting, intraocular delayed-release devices are in early clinical studies. Although newer corticosteroids with lesser pressure elevating characteristics have been developed, corticosteroid-induced ocular hypertension and glaucoma continue to be significant risks of local and systemic administration. Posterior subcapsular cataract, observed following as little as 4 months topical corticosteroids use, is thought to be due to covalent binding of corticosteroid to lens protein with subsequent oxidation. Inappropriate use of topical corticosteroid in the presence of corneal infections also continues to be a cause of ocular morbidity. Other risks of locally administered ophthalmic corticosteroids include: tear-film instability, epithelial toxicity, crystalline keratopathy, decreased wound strength, orbital fat atrophy, ptosis, limitation of ocular movement, inadvertent intraocular injection, and reduction in endogenous cortisol. This extensive review assesses the therapeutic benefits of locally administered ocular corticosteroids in the context of the risks of adverse effects.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Topical
  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / administration & dosage*
  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / adverse effects
  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / therapeutic use*
  • Animals
  • Cataract / chemically induced
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Delayed-Action Preparations
  • Drug Delivery Systems / methods*
  • Eye Diseases / chemically induced
  • Eye Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Eye Infections / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Ocular Hypertension / chemically induced
  • Ointments
  • Ophthalmic Solutions
  • Wound Healing / drug effects


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones
  • Delayed-Action Preparations
  • Ointments
  • Ophthalmic Solutions