In an open-label HPA axis safety trial in subjects 3 months to 12 years of age with atopic dermatitis, Betamethasone dipropionate cream (augmented), % was applied twice daily for 2 to 3 weeks over a mean body surface area of 58% (range 35% to 95%). In 19 of 60 (32%) evaluable subjects, adrenal suppression was indicated by either a ≤5 mcg/dL pre-stimulation cortisol, or a cosyntropin post-stimulation cortisol ≤18 mcg/dL and/or an increase of <7 mcg/dL from the baseline cortisol. Out of the 19 subjects with HPA axis suppression, 4 subjects were tested 2 weeks after discontinuation of Betamethasone dipropionate cream (augmented), % and 3 of the 4 (75%) had complete recovery of HPA axis function. The proportion of subjects with adrenal suppression in this trial was progressively greater, the younger the age group.
The most common side effect of topical corticosteroid use is skin atrophy. All topical steroids can induce atrophy, but higher potency steroids, occlusion, thinner skin, and older patient age increase the risk. The face, the backs of the hands, and intertriginous areas are particularly susceptible. Resolution often occurs after discontinuing use of these agents, but it may take months. Concurrent use of topical tretinoin (Retin-A) % may reduce the incidence of atrophy from chronic steroid applications. 30 Other side effects from topical steroids include permanent dermal atrophy, telangiectasia, and striae.
Topical steroids have been both extensively used and found to be very effective for the treatment of eczema. Concerns about side effects both on the skin and systemically has increased acceptance of the new steroid free alternative. Worries about long term use of a cortisone cream making the skin less responsive to treatment is a potential risk and is occasionally a concern. This may not occur with the topical immunomodulators but longer term studies will be needed to confirm this.
The new topical immunomodulators (TIMS) provide a significant new choice in the treatment of atopic eczema. They are used as a steroid-sparing medications. There is a discussion whether the immunomodulators should be used alone as monotherapy. Good evidence is available to show that using a potent topical cortisone twice a week only will reduce and may prevent eczema flares. If this was combined with intermittent use the immunomodulators this might further reduce flares. However some TIMs may reduce flares on their own.
For locations such as the face, folds and anterior upper chest the topical immunomodulators seem to be effective, well tolerated and free of significant side effects other than initial and minimal burning.
The following charts simplify some of the anti-inflammatory options: