Is betamethasone the same as hydrocortisone?
Medically reviewed by Sally Chao, MD. Last updated on Feb 2, 2021.
Betamethasone is not the same as hydrocortisone, but both medications are corticosteroids (steroids, for short). They are often used to treat skin conditions, including contact dermatitis, psoriasis and eczema. Steroids like betamethasone and hydrocortisone work by relieving the inflammation that causes many of the symptoms associated with these skin conditions, such as itching, redness, dryness and/or scaling.
The biggest difference between betamethasone and hydrocortisone is the strength. Certain strengths of hydrocortisone are available over-the-counter, but betamethasone requires a prescription. Betamethasone is generally recommended when other prescription drugs or over-the-counter topicals, including hydrocortisone cream, do not relieve symptoms effectively. Some types of betamethasone are up to 600 times as potent as hydrocortisone.
Both medications are available in various forms, including:
Which type is used depends on factors like the specific condition being treated and its location on the body.
Betamethasone is typically applied to affected areas of skin once or twice a day, while hydrocortisone is usually applied one to four times a day.
Side effects of topical betamethasone and hydrocortisone may include:
- Unwanted hair growth
- Changes in skin color
- Small red bumps or rashes around the mouth
- Tiny white or red bumps on the skin
More serious side effects of both of these steroids may include:
- Skin infection where the medication was applied
You should carefully follow instructions on the label to minimize the chances of any side effects.
Both medications are also available as a pill and/or shot. These forms of betamethasone may be used to treat severe allergic attacks, systemic inflammation and autoimmune conditions, including flares of rheumatoid arthritis or multiple sclerosis. Hydrocortisone injections or oral tablets may be used to treat allergic reactions, certain cancers, arthritis and/or inflammatory gastrointestinal disorders such as ulcerative colitis.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. Hydrocortisone topical. January 15, 2018. Available at: https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a682793.html. [Accessed January 13, 2021].
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. Betamethasone topical. February 15, 2018. Available at: https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a682799.html. [Accessed January 13, 2021].
- New Zealand Dermatological Society. Topical steroid. January 4, 2016. Available at: https://dermnetnz.org/topics/topical-steroid/. [Accessed January 13, 2021].
- National Health Service. Betamethasone for skin. August 21, 2020. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/medicines/betamethasone-skin. [Accessed January 13, 2021].
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. Hydrocortisone injection. May 15, 2016. Available at: https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a682871.html. [Accessed January 13, 2021].
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