Hydrocortisone is a type of corticosteroid hormone primarily used for inflammation relief and itch relief. In addition to these most common uses of hydrocortisone, the medication is also used to treat asthma, allergies, arthritis, and adrenal gland diseases. Hydrocortisone may be prescribed as either an oral medication or a topical cream depending on the ailment being treated.
Corticosteroids are a broad family of natural and synthetic chemicals that are or mimic hormones secreted by the pituitary gland. A sub-category called glucocorticoids is where hydrocortisone resides. They are responsible for how glucose is used in the body, how fat is metabolized, and for treating inflammation. When a person suffers from a pituitary deficiency, doctors may prescribe a synthetic glucocorticoid such as hydrocortisone. Other members of the glucocorticoid family include dexamethasone, prednisone, prenisolone, and betamethasone, which all work in slightly different ways.
When applied as a topical cream, the uses of hydrocortisone are almost exclusively as anti-itch and anti-inflammatory skin treatments. The topical creams are rubbed onto the affected area and absorbed by the skin. Hydrocortisone prevents the prostaglandins in the skin from causing the blood vessels to enlarge and become inflamed and itchy. The topical creams are available in four strength levels and may also include antibiotics in the higher strength doses.
The most common oral uses of hydrocortisone include treatment of asthma and allergies. Just as the topical version of hydrocortisone prevents prostaglandins in the skin from causing inflammation, the oral version of hydrocortisone prevents internal airways from being closed off. This is especially critical with asthma and allergy sufferers, as external triggers often lead to bouts or attacks. For severe cases, hydrocortisone may be delivered intravenously along with oral medications or inhalers.
Other uses of hydrocortisone include treating arthritis. Since arthritis causes painful swelling in the joints, hydrocortisone creams are applied to reduce the inflammation. Daily oral prescriptions are often necessary to reduce the chronic symptoms, and in severe cases, hydrocortisone may be injected directly into the joint area to alleviate significant swelling.
When a person suffers from adrenal gland diseases such as Addison's disease, congenital adrenal hyperplasia, or has had his or her adrenal gland removed during an adrenalectomy, there is typically a deficiency in hydrocortisone production. This deficiency requires a synthetic version of hydrocortisone to be prescribed. The synthetic hydrocortisone helps restore some of the adrenal gland functions and help regulate the body. These uses of hydrocortisone are known as hormone replacement therapy.