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The Agony Of Living With Steroid Dermatitis

We dive deeper into steroid dermatitis and what people suffering from this condition go through.

By Waweru Kinyanjui / Edited by Aiden Chantemsin

Updated September 15, 2023

Steroid Dermatitis

Topical steroid withdrawal, or red skin syndrome, is also called steroid dermatitis. The condition comes about after applying topical corticosteroids on the skin for two weeks or longer and then discontinued suddenly, bringing about withdrawal. Common withdrawal symptoms for the condition include redness, itchiness, scabs, hot skin, hives, fatigue, and eye problems. People with atopic dermatitis (eczema) are most at risk. The most common treatment is to decrease the use of the steroid cream gradually and to apply ointments such as Vaseline to decrease symptoms.

Clara gives us her story as a person living with steroid dermatitis, how it started, and how the experience has been so far. She shares the stigma, depression, and anxiety associated with red-burning skin syndrome.

Her Experience with Steroid Dermatitis

Clara's condition began in late 2020 during the height of COVID-19. When she was prescribed a steroid cream to deal with her eczema flare-ups around her neck and face, "I went in, and the doctor prescribed a corticosteroid cream, Clozole B, to be applied twice a day, in the morning and before going to bed in affected areas…"

Her eczema flare-ups had gone down, and her skin returned to normal until about a month later when they returned, and she started applying the cream again. She used it for two months consecutively, saying, "I was desperate to have them [the eczema flare-ups] gone… I was working overtime for an editorial shoot for a magazine they had featured me on campus, so I applied the steroid, hoping for the results I had recorded earlier."

When she stopped using her steroids, she experienced withdrawal symptoms like never before, experiencing the severity of steroid addiction syndrome. Clara's withdrawal, she explains, included itchiness and redness, especially around the neck and face areas. Clara recalls that the itching would sometimes be everywhere simultaneously, even in areas she hadn't applied the steroid to, and would be persistent. Her face had scabs and was always puffy and itchy. Her skin also became severely dry, triggering the return of her eczema.

"It was a very dark period of my life socially," she said. "People would stare, and some asked me questions about my face. My skin looked horrendous, and I was afraid to go in public, let alone do my photo shoots."

She experienced anxiety, particularly in public on campus and walking in the streets, and had severe depression afterward.

Clara feared that "the condition would remain forever, and I would always have these nasty withdrawal symptoms."

The condition has no cure, and the recovery period depends on the duration of use, with some having to live with withdrawal for years. People who have applied the corticosteroids for more prolonged periods tend to experience more severe and lasting symptoms, as the condition may relapse years after the skin has returned to its normal state.

Her Recovery

However, she noted some things she could do to help relieve her pain, such as "Doing cold compresses with ice on my face has helped with the symptoms of burning and stinging, and fortunately, my skin is almost fully restored."

Clara, speaking from experience, advises to "Use steroid creams for less than two weeks as per the doctor's prescription. No more. Also, consult your dermatologist as soon as the flare-ups come back for advice on what to do."

Joining online support groups with others recovering from red skin syndrome is also highly recommended. It helps in the withdrawal journey because you see and hear from others going through the same problem and know you are not alone. There are also many success stories to inspire and motivate others on the same journey.