Topical and systemic steroids have proven to be invaluable agents in the treatment of a wide range of disorders, but their use is not without potential complications. Before initiation of therapy with systemic steroids, a personal or family history of cataracts, glaucoma, hypertension, diabetes, hyperlipidemia, renal stones, peptic ulceration, and current infection or pregnancy should be ascertained, because these patients have an increased risk of complications. Prior to long-term therapy with systemic steroids, blood pressure measurement, tuberculin skin test, and anergy panel are recommended. Monthly follow-up may include measurements of weight, blood pressure, electrolytes, and blood sugar and guaiac testing of the stool. To prevent the ocular complications of steroid therapy, routine screening is indicated (Table 1). Screening for cataracts, which occur most commonly as a sequela of continuous systemic steroid use, may be performed by slit-lamp examinations conducted three or four times a year for patients on long-term therapy and twice a year for patients taking intermittent topical ocular or systemic steroids. Glaucoma is more often associated with topical ocular or periocular steroids than with systemic steroids; recommended screening includes a baseline intraocular pressure measurement, then routine pressure measurements taken every few weeks initially, then every few months. Ocular rebound inflammation may develop secondary to rapid tapering or abrupt discontinuation of topical ocular steroid use and is best prevented with gradual tapering. Opportunistic infections of the eye include bacterial, viral, and fungal infections and are most often associated with the use of topical ocular steroids. Ophthalmologic evaluation is indicated promptly if patients treated with ocular steroids develop ocular discharge, pain, photophobia, or redness.
You can buy some topical corticosteroids "over-the-counter" without a prescription. For example, for dermatitis, you can buy the steroid cream called hydrocortisone 1% from your pharmacy. Do not apply this to your face unless your doctor has told you to do so. This is because it may trigger a skin condition affecting the face ( acne or rosacea. ) Long-term use may also damage the skin. On your face this would be more noticeable than the rest of your body. So usually only weak steroids are used on the face. Those which are suitable are prescription-only.