How does this medication work? What will it do for me?

Hydrocortisone topical (cream, lotion, ointment, or scalp solution applied to the skin) belongs to a class of medications called corticosteroids. It is used for temporary relief of minor skin irritations such as itching and rashes due to a variety of conditions, such as eczema, dermatitis, insect bites, poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, soaps, detergents, cosmetics, and jewellery.

Hydrocortisone works by reducing redness, itching, and inflammation.

This medication may be available under multiple brand names and/or in several different forms. Any specific brand name of this medication may not be available in all of the forms or approved for all of the conditions discussed here. As well, some forms of this medication may not be used for all of the conditions discussed here.

Your doctor may have suggested this medication for conditions other than those listed in these drug information articles. If you have not discussed this with your doctor or are not sure why you are using this medication, speak to your doctor. Do not stop using this medication without consulting your doctor.

Do not give this medication to anyone else, even if they have the same symptoms as you do. It can be harmful for people to use this medication if their doctor has not prescribed it.

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What form(s) does this medication come in?

Cream 1%
Each g contains hydrocortisone-acetate 1%. Nonmedicinal ingredients: water-washable cream base of cetostearyl alcohol, propylene glycol, purified water, sodium lauryl sulfate, and white petrolatum.

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How should I use this medication?

Hydrocortisone topical preparations (i.e., cream, lotion, ointment, or scalp solution) should be applied to the affected area in a thin film not more than 3 or 4 times a day. Your doctor may also suggest to apply only 1 to 2 times a day. Take care not to get this medication in your eyes. Wash your hands after applying the medication. Do not wrap the area where the medication has been applied so that it can breathe, unless instructed to do so by your doctor. Use this medication for a maximum of 7 days. If symptoms persist longer than 7 days, consult a doctor.

Many things can affect the dose of medication that a person needs, such as body weight, other medical conditions, and other medications. If your doctor has recommended a dose different from the ones listed here, do not change the way that you are using the medication without consulting your doctor.

It is important to use this medication exactly as prescribed by your doctor. If you miss a dose, apply it as soon as possible and continue with your regular schedule. If it is almost time for your next dose, skip the missed dose and continue with your regular dosing schedule. Do not apply a double dose to make up for a missed one. If you are not sure what to do after missing a dose, contact your doctor or pharmacist for advice.

Store this medication at room temperature, protect it from light and moisture, and keep it out of the reach of children.

This medication is available under multiple brand names and/or in several different forms. Any specific brand name of this medication may not be available in all of the forms listed here. The forms available for the specific brand you have searched are listed under "What form(s) does this medication come in?"

Do not dispose of medications in wastewater (e.g. down the sink or in the toilet) or in household garbage. Ask your pharmacist how to dispose of medications that are no longer needed or have expired.

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Who should NOT take this medication?

Do not use hydrocortisone topical if you:

  • are allergic to hydrocortisone or any ingredients of the medication
  • have certain viral infections such as herpes simplex, chickenpox, or vaccinia
  • have untreated tuberculosis, fungal, or bacterial infections of the skin
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What side effects are possible with this medication?

Many medications can cause side effects. A side effect is an unwanted response to a medication when it is taken in normal doses. Side effects can be mild or severe, temporary or permanent.

The side effects listed below are not experienced by everyone who takes this medication. If you are concerned about side effects, discuss the risks and benefits of this medication with your doctor.

The following side effects have been reported by at least 1% of people taking this medication. Many of these side effects can be managed, and some may go away on their own over time.

Contact your doctor if you experience these side effects and they are severe or bothersome. Your pharmacist may be able to advise you on managing side effects.

  • burning, dryness, irritation, itching, or redness of skin
  • increased redness or scaling of skin sores
  • skin rash

Although most of the side effects listed below don't happen very often, they could lead to serious problems if you do not seek medical attention.

Check with your doctor as soon as possible if any of the following side effects occur:

  • blood-containing blisters on skin
  • changes in skin colour
  • excess hair growth
  • increased skin sensitivity
  • lack of healing of skin condition
  • numbness in fingers
  • painful, red or itchy, pus-containing blisters in hair follicles
  • raised, dark-red, wart-like spots on skin, especially when used on the face
  • skin infection
  • thinning of skin with easy bruising

Stop taking the medication and seek immediate medical attention if any of the following occur:

  • symptoms of an allergic reaction, (e.g., swelling of the hands, feet, ankles, face, lips, mouth, or throat; difficulty breathing or swallowing)

Some people may experience side effects other than those listed. Check with your doctor if you notice any symptom that worries you while you are taking this medication.

Are there any other precautions or warnings for this medication?

Before you begin using a medication, be sure to inform your doctor of any medical conditions or allergies you may have, any medications you are taking, whether you are pregnant or breast-feeding, and any other significant facts about your health. These factors may affect how you should use this medication.

Dressings: Do not use dressings or bandages over hydrocortisone unless recommended by your doctor. This includes diapers or plastic pants if hydrocortisone is applied to the diaper area.

Eye: Be careful when applying hydrocortisone on lesions near the eye because absorption into the blood may cause increased eye pressure, glaucoma, or cataracts. Wash your hands after applying hydrocortisone and avoid touching your eyes.

Infection: A proper anti-infective should be used to treat an infection while hydrocortisone may be used to treat the symptoms of inflammation, redness, and itching. At times, the use of corticosteroids may mask the signs and symptoms of infections.

Medical conditions: Do not use this medication to treat itching of the vulva (vaginal lips) that is associated with vaginal discharge.

Overuse: Long-term use of this medication over large areas of the body or under dressings that don't breathe could lead to the absorption of hydrocortisone into the body's blood circulation. This could produce effects similar to those seen after taking oral steroid medications, such as prednisone, for long periods of time. These side effects include:

  • acne
  • cataracts
  • diarrhea or constipation
  • fluid retention (bloating)
  • hallucinations
  • increased blood sugar
  • increased body hair growth
  • increased risk of infections
  • irregular menstrual cycles
  • nausea
  • seizures
  • slow healing of wounds
  • stomach ulcers
  • thin skin
  • vomiting

Talk to your doctor if you have any questions or concerns.

Skin: Prolonged use of corticosteroids can cause thinning of the skin, especially on the face, armpits, inner arm, back of the leg, and skin folds. If this occurs, talk to your doctor.

Pregnancy: The use of topical hydrocortisone is generally considered to be compatible with pregnancy. If you are pregnant, speak to your doctor about the benefits and risks of using this medication.

Breast-feeding: The use of topical hydrocortisone is generally considered to be compatible with breast-feeding. If you are breast-feeding, speak to your doctor about the benefits and risks of using this medication.

Children: Children may absorb more of the medication than adults and may experience more side effects. Speak to your doctor about the benefits and risks of using this medication on children.

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What other drugs could interact with this medication?

If you are applying additional medications to the area of the skin being treated, speak with your doctor or pharmacist. Depending on your specific circumstances, your doctor may want you to:

  • stop taking one of the medications,
  • change one of the medications to another,
  • change how you are taking one or both of the medications, or
  • leave everything as is.

An interaction between two medications does not always mean that you must stop taking one of them. Speak to your doctor about how any drug interactions are being managed or should be managed.

Medications other than those listed above may interact with this medication. Tell your doctor or prescriber about all prescription, over-the-counter (non-prescription), and herbal medications you are taking. Also tell them about any supplements you take. Since caffeine, alcohol, the nicotine from cigarettes, or street drugs can affect the action of many medications, you should let your prescriber know if you use them.