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Hydrocortisone

Generic name: hydrocortisone (oral) [ HYE-droe-KOR-ti-sone ]
Dosage forms: oral granule (0.5 mg; 1 mg; 2 mg; 5 mg); oral tablet (10 mg; 20 mg; 5 mg)
Drug class: Glucocorticoids

Medically reviewed by Drugs.com on Mar 24, 2022. Written by Cerner Multum.

What is hydrocortisone?

Hydrocortisone is a steroid medicine that is used to treat many different conditions, including allergic disorders, skin conditions, ulcerative colitis, arthritis, lupus, lung disorders, and certain blood cell disorders such as anemia (low red blood cells) or thrombocytopenia (low platelets).

Hydrocortisone is also used to replace steroids in people with adrenal insufficiency (decreased production of natural steroids by the adrenal glands).

Hydrocortisone is also used in the treatment of certain cancers such as leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma.

Alkindi Sprinkle is approved for use in people from birth to 17 years of age.

Hydrocortisone may also be used for purposes not listed in this medication guide.

Warnings

Tell your doctor about any illness or infection you had within the past several weeks.

Before taking this medicine

You should not use hydrocortisone if you are allergic to hydrocortisone, corticosteroids, or if you have a systemic fungal infection.

Steroids can weaken your immune system, making it easier for you to get an infection or worsening an infection you already have. Tell your doctor about any illness or infection you had within the past several weeks.

Tell your doctor if you have ever had:

Long-term use of steroids may lead to bone loss (osteoporosis), especially if you smoke, if you do not exercise, if you do not get enough vitamin D or calcium in your diet, or if you have a family history of osteoporosis.

It is not known whether this medicine will harm an unborn baby. However, using this medicine during pregnancy may cause a hormone deficiency in the newborn. Tell your doctor if you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant.

Ask a doctor if it is safe to breastfeed while using this medicine.

How should I take hydrocortisone?

Follow all directions on your prescription label and read all medication guides or instruction sheets. Your doctor may occasionally change your dose. Use the medicine exactly as directed.

Take with food if hydrocortisone upsets your stomach.

Do not swallow an Alkindi Sprinkle capsule whole. Open the capsule and pour the medicine granules onto the tongue before swallowing. You may also mix the granules with soft food such as yogurt or applesauce (not with liquid). Swallow the mixture right away without chewing.

Drink water right after taking the Alkindi Sprinkle granule mixture. If giving this medicine to a baby, give infant formula or breast milk.

If you have trouble sleeping, you may need to take this medicine early in the day. Follow your doctor's dosing instructions very carefully.

Your dose needs may change if you have a serious illness, fever or infection, surgery or a medical emergency. Tell your doctor about any such situation that affects you.

Your doctor will need to check your progress on a regular basis.

You should not stop taking hydrocortisone suddenly. Follow your doctor's instructions about tapering your dose.

Store at room temperature away from moisture, heat, and light.

Wear a medical alert tag or carry an ID card to let others know you use steroid medication.

What happens if I miss a dose?

Take the medicine as soon as you can, but skip the missed dose if it is almost time for your next dose. Do not take two doses at one time.

What happens if I overdose?

Seek emergency medical attention or call the Poison Help line at 1-800-222-1222.

High doses or long-term use of steroid medicine can lead to thinning skin, easy bruising, changes in body fat (especially in your face, neck, back, and waist), increased acne or facial hair, menstrual problems, impotence, or loss of interest in sex.

What should I avoid while taking hydrocortisone?

Avoid receiving a "live" vaccine. The vaccine may not work as well while you are using hydrocortisone. Live vaccines include measles, mumps, rubella (MMR), rotavirus, typhoid, yellow fever, varicella (chickenpox), and zoster (shingles).

Avoid being near people who are sick or have infections. Call your doctor for preventive treatment if you are exposed to chickenpox or measles. These conditions can be serious or even fatal in people who are using hydrocortisone.

Hydrocortisone side effects

Get emergency medical help if you have signs of an allergic reaction: hives; difficult breathing; swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.

Hydrocortisone may cause serious side effects. Call your doctor at once if you have:

  • blurred vision, eye pain or redness, seeing halos around lights;

  • muscle weakness, loss of muscle mass;

  • new or unusual pain in your joints, bones, or muscles;

  • severe headaches, ringing in your ears, pain behind your eyes;

  • unusual changes in mood or behavior;

  • a seizure;

  • fluid retention--shortness of breath (even while lying down), swelling, rapid weight gain (especially in your face and midsection);

  • new signs of infection--such as fever, chills, cough, trouble breathing, sores in your mouth or on your skin, diarrhea, or burning when you urinate;

  • increased adrenal gland hormones--slow wound healing, skin discoloration, thinning skin, increased body hair, tiredness, menstrual changes, sexual changes; or

  • decreased adrenal gland hormones--weakness, tiredness, diarrhea, nausea, menstrual changes, skin discoloration, craving salty foods, and feeling light-headed.

Hydrocortisone can affect growth in children. Tell your doctor if your child is not growing at a normal rate while using hydrocortisone.

Common side effects of hydrocortisone may include:

  • thinning skin, bruising or discoloration;

  • increased sweating;

  • stomach bloating;

  • changes in your menstrual periods;

  • increased appetite, weight gain;

  • headache, dizziness; or

  • trouble sleeping.

This is not a complete list of side effects and others may occur. Call your doctor for medical advice about side effects. You may report side effects to FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088.

What other drugs will affect hydrocortisone?

Sometimes it is not safe to use certain medications at the same time. Some drugs can affect your blood levels of other drugs you take, which may increase side effects or make the medications less effective.

Tell your doctor about all your current medicines. Many drugs can affect hydrocortisone, especially:

This list is not complete and many other drugs may affect hydrocortisone. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and herbal products. Not all possible drug interactions are listed here.

Popular FAQ

What does hydrocortisone cream do to eczema?

Hydrocortisone blocks substances in the skin that cause itching and inflammation. It may be recommended by your doctor as part of a treatment plan to manage eczema.

Does hydrocortisone lower your immune system?

Yes. Hydrocortisone suppresses, or lowers, your immune system. This means that if you take hydrocortisone, you may be more likely to get infections than a person who is not taking it.

Is hydrocortisone a strong steroid?

Steroids are classified by their potency as short-, medium- or long-acting. Hydrocortisone is a short-acting steroid. It’s less potent than other steroids like prednisone and methylprednisolone, which are intermediate-acting. All steroids come with risks and may cause side effects.

Hydrocortisone tablets come in three strengths: 5 mg, 10 mg and 20 mg. The strength your doctor prescribes depends on what condition is being treated and how your body responds.

How long does hydrocortisone take to work?

Hydrocortisone starts working about 30 minutes after you take a dose. That means the concentration of hydrocortisone in your system will be highest 30 minutes after you take a tablet. The length of time you will need to take hydrocortisone will depend on what condition is being treated.

Hydrocortisone cream is not recommended to put on a shingles rash and there is no evidence that hydrocortisone cream will help treat the pain of a shingles rash. The preferred treatment for shingles are antiviral medicines that you take by mouth, such as acyclovir, valacyclovir and famciclovir. Continue reading

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Further information

Remember, keep this and all other medicines out of the reach of children, never share your medicines with others, and use this medication only for the indication prescribed.

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.