Steroid tablets or injections

Do they work?

If you have hay fever, steroid tablets are likely to help. But they're not usually used as a treatment for hay fever. They can cause severe side effects if you take them for a long time.

The usual way of taking steroids for hay fever is as a spray you breathe in through your nose. To read more, see Steroid nasal sprays. If tablets are given, they tend to be used for a short time to treat severe hay fever. For example, if you're coming up to important exams and your hay fever is stopping you working, your doctor may suggest steroid tablets.

Steroid injections have been used in the past to treat hay fever. But they're not used much any more.

What are they?

The steroids used to treat hay fever are called corticosteroids. They help calm your body's allergic reaction to pollen. They're similar to chemicals that your body makes that help to reduce swelling. They are not the same as the anabolic steroids that some athletes and bodybuilders use.

One common steroid that you can take as tablets is called prednisolone. You usually take steroid tablets once a day. It's best to take them in the morning, after breakfast.

In the past, steroid injections were sometimes used to treat hay fever. They were given as long-lasting injections, called depot injections. You only have one dose, but the drug gets released into your body slowly. This means you only need one injection at the beginning of the hay fever season.

The problem with long-lasting injections is that, if you get side effects, there's no way to get the drug out of your body. If you get side effects from tablets, you can just stop taking them. Steroids can cause serious side effects if you take them for a long time. So doctors don't tend to use steroid injections to treat hay fever any more.

One steroid that can be given as a long-lasting injection is called methylprednisolone (brand name Depo-Medrone).

How can they help?

The research doesn't give a clear answer on whether steroid tablets work for hay fever.[1][2][3] But the studies are quite old and look at steroid tablets that aren't available any more. Doctors think that steroid tablets do work for people with hay fever but that they should only be taken for a short time.

There's lots of research showing that steroid injections help people with hay fever.[4] But all the research comes from between 1960 and 1989. That's because injections used to be a more common treatment for hay fever. They're not used much any more.

How does it work?

Hay fever is an allergy. Allergies happen when your immune system overreacts to something that's harmless for most people. If you have hay fever, your body overreacts to pollen in the air (or sometimes mould). Taking a steroid helps to reduce your body's allergic reaction to pollen or mould.

Can they be harmful?

Steroids can cause some severe side effects, especially if you take them for a long time. The risk of side effects should be smaller if you don't take them for very long.

Your doctor should explain the benefits and risks of steroids before you start taking them. If you get any worrying symptoms while you're taking steroids, see your doctor straight away.

Some people get mood swings when they take steroids, and have very high or low moods.[5][6] You may feel tired, nervous, or depressed. Rarely, these side effects can be serious and cause people to think about suicide or see things that aren't really there.[7] It's also possible to get these problems when you stop taking steroids.

Taking steroids for a long time can increase your risk of getting weak bones (osteoporosis).[5][6] Steroids can also increase your risk of getting diabetes. Some women get irregular periods when they take steroids.

Steroid tablets aren't usually recommended for young children. There's a chance they could slow down your child's growth.[6]

Doctors think that taking steroids as a nasal spray is likely to cause fewer side effects than taking them as tablets or injections. To read more, see Steroid nasal sprays.

How good is the research?

How good is the research on steroid tablets or injections?

Last updated: Jun 09, 2014