There's no doubt about it, a number of people with chronic lung diseases like COPD are helped immensely by long-term oral steroid use. But there's also a downside: daily use of an oral steroid, for example prednisone, for months or years, particularly when used in moderate (11–40 mg) to high (greater than 40 mg) doses, can cause a host of serious side effects.

Why Use Steroids?

Doctors typically turn to oral corticosteroids for lung disease when all else fails or when there's no other alternative. For example, inhaled corticosteroids are a standard therapy for individuals with asthma. But for some people with severe asthma, even high doses of inhaled steroids are not effective. In those cases, the doctor may recommend oral steroids.

Similarly, some individuals with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) take oral steroids because other treatments don't work effectively. People with other lung diseases, such as sarcoidosis, may also need to take oral steroids on a long-term basis simply because no other effective therapies are available.

In all of these situations, the benefits of treatment typically outweigh the risks.

Publication Review By: Peter B. Terry, M.D., M.A.

Published: 20 Jun 2013

Last Modified: 20 Jun 2013