What to Know if Your Child Is Prescribed Steroids

February 2, 2020

Clinical Contributors to this Story

Kenneth V. Lieberman, M.D. contributes to topics such as Pediatric Nephrology.

If your child’s doctor recommends steroid treatment, don’t panic. The anabolic steroids that have been centerstage in athletic performance scandals over recent years are not the kind your doctor is prescribing.

Corticosteroid drugs are used to treat a wide range of conditions in children including kidney disease, asthma, allergies, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. The medication reduces inflammation in the body and suppresses the immune system, which relieves the symptoms and effects of many medical conditions.

Side Effects of Steroids

Although steroid treatment is effective for most patients, there are side effects that should be considered, says Kenneth V. Lieberman, M.D., a pediatric nephrologist at the Pediatric Nephrology Center at Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital. “I don’t want people to be afraid of steroids because they are very effective medications,” he explains. “It is important to remember that the number and severity of side effects depends on the child’s exposure to the drug—the dose and the period of time it is to be taken.”

Dr. Lieberman points out that a one-week course of corticosteroid for an allergic reaction might cause minor side effects such as sleeplessness or mood changes, but they disappear when the treatment is completed.

Longer-term use of steroids for more serious, chronic conditions may result in other side effects such as swelling due to water retention, fatigue, sleep problems and weight gain.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

To be sure you understand the treatment and possible side effects, Dr. Lieberman suggests asking your doctor these questions:

  1. What is the dose of medication my child needs, and is that considered a low dose?
  2. How long will my child need to take the steroid?
  3. What are all of the potential side effects I should anticipate?
  4. When should I call the doctor’s office about side effects I’ve noticed?

Most Important Consideration About Steroids

One side effect that Dr. Lieberman believes is not emphasized enough—even for children on relatively short-term use—is the drug’s ability to suppress the immune system.

“It is best to minimize your child’s contact with sick people while taking steroids,” Dr. Lieberman says. This means keeping the child away from anyone who has a fever or is coughing and sneezing, because children taking steroids are more vulnerable to viral infections.

“If your child does become ill while on steroids, call your doctor, even if the symptoms are not serious,” he says. “It is best to err on the side of caution.”

Next Steps & Resources:

  • Learn how pediatric experts at Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital go the extra mile in their care of patients with kidney disease.
  • Dr. Lieberman practices in Hackensack and Neptune. To make an appointment, call 551-996-8228.

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.