Consumers appropriately self-treat based on labeling for over-the-counter hydrocortisone

J Am Acad Dermatol. 2005 Jul;53(1):41-51. doi: 10.1016/j.jaad.2005.01.107.


Background: Over-the-counter (OTC) topical corticosteroids, such as hydrocortisone cream (HC), are commonly used for the treatment of minor dermatological conditions. The safety and efficacy of such products are well documented, but details on patterns of use and self-treatment with HC in the OTC environment remain scarce.

Objective: We sought to determine compliance with label directions of OTC HCs by examining self-reported patterns of OTC HC use in adults and children.

Methods: A random digit-dialed telephone survey was conducted with 2000 US adults. Following identification of users of OTC HC in the last 6 months, respondents were asked questions about the conditions being treated with OTC HC and the frequency and duration of use in both adults and children.

Results: Of adults completing the survey, 20% (n = 396) had used OTC HC. In 83% of cases, the conditions treated were consistent with the OTC label. Use was limited; HC was applied < or =4 times daily in 98% of adult users and lasted < or =7 days in 92%. Patterns of pediatric use were similar and almost always consistent with the labeling. Of households with children, 25% (n = 168) had used OTC HC to treat pediatric dermatological conditions. Of child users, 93% were 2 years of age or older, treatment was limited (97% applied HC < or =4 times daily and 94% of treatments lasted < or =7 days), and the conditions treated were appropriate in 86% of cases.

Limitations: This telephone survey relied on respondents' recall and self-reporting. Our data on pediatric use of OTC HC are skewed toward treatment of younger children.

Conclusion: The data suggest that OTC HC products are used for self-treatment in a limited and appropriate fashion that is likely to be safe in both adults and children.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Drug Labeling*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / therapeutic use*
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nonprescription Drugs / therapeutic use*
  • Patient Compliance*
  • Self Medication*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Nonprescription Drugs
  • Hydrocortisone