A systematic review of the safety and efficacy of systemic corticosteroids in atopic dermatitis

J Am Acad Dermatol. 2018 Apr;78(4):733-740.e11. doi: 10.1016/j.jaad.2017.09.074. Epub 2017 Dec 6.


Background: Systemic corticosteroids are often used to treat atopic dermatitis (AD). However, few studies have assessed the safety and efficacy of systemic corticosteroids in AD.

Objective: To systematically review the literature on efficacy and safety of systemic corticosteroid use (oral, intramuscular, and intravenous) in AD.

Methods: PubMed, Embase, Medline, Scopus, Web of Science, and Cochrane Library were searched. We included systematic reviews, guidelines, and treatment reviews of systemic corticosteroid use among patients of all ages with a diagnosis of AD (52 reviews and 12 studies).

Results: There was general consensus in the literature to limit the use of systemic steroids to short courses as a bridge to steroid-sparing therapies. Systemic side effects include growth suppression in children, osteoporosis, osteonecrosis, adrenal insufficiency, Cushing syndrome, hypertension, glucose intolerance, diabetes, gastritis, gastroesophageal reflux, peptic ulcer disease, weight gain, emotional lability, behavioral changes, opportunistic infections, cataracts, glaucoma, myopathy, myalgia, dysaesthesia, pseudotumor cerebri, hyperlipidemia, malignancy, thrombosis, skin atrophy, sleep disturbance, and rebound flaring.

Limitations: Baseline clinical severity, corticosteroid delivery and dose, and treatment response were reported incompletely and heterogeneously across studies.

Conclusions: Evidence is not strong enough to determine optimal delivery or duration of systemic corticosteroids in AD.

Keywords: adrenal insufficiency; atopic dermatitis; atopic eczema; corticosteroids; eczema; intramuscular; intravenous; oral; rebound flaring; systemic side effects.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / adverse effects
  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / therapeutic use*
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / drug therapy*
  • Humans
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones