Conference Coverage

Steroid phobia drives weaker prescribing, nonadherence for AD



Concerns about the side effects of topical corticosteroids continue to be a source of anxiety for parents of children with atopic dermatitis (AD), leading some medical providers to prescribe weaker products, Nanette B. Silverberg, MD, said at the Revolutionizing Atopic Dermatitis meeting.

Up to 40% of parents of children with chronic AD cite anxiety surrounding corticosteroids, according to Dr. Silverberg, chief of pediatric dermatology at the Mount Sinai Health System, New York.

When the potential for adverse events are explained to parents who are anxious about a drug, “they take it in a different way than other individuals,” noted Dr. Silverberg, clinical professor of pediatrics and dermatology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

In a systematic review of 16 studies examining topical corticosteroid phobia in AD, published between 1946 and 2016, the prevalence of corticosteroid phobia among patients with AD or their caregivers ranged from 21% to 83.7%, with definitions of phobia that ranged from “concern” to “irrational fear.” In two studies where adherence was evaluated, patients with corticosteroid phobia had a higher rate of partial adherence (49.4%) or nonadherence (14.1%) when compared with patients who didn’t have a phobia of corticosteroids (29.3 % and 9.8%, respectively)..

The source of these fears can be information from friends, relatives, media, the Internet, as well as doctors, Dr. Silverberg noted. “We have to be responsible for providing proper data to these individuals,” she said.

Primary care providers also treat young children with AD differently from older children, when compared with other specialties, according to the results of one study that involved a survey and a retrospective chart review, published in 2020. In the survey, 88% of primary care providers in Chicago said they managed AD differently in children under aged 2 years than in older children, with 65% reporting they were more likely to refer a child under 2 years to a specialist, and 64% said they were less likely to prescribe high-potency topical corticosteroids to children in this age group. The retrospective review found that at PCP visits, significantly more children with AD between aged 2 and 5 years were more likely to be prescribed medium-potency topical corticosteroids (0.66% vs. 0.37%, P < .01) and high-potency topical corticosteroids (0.15% vs. 0.05%; P < .01) than children under 2 years old, respectively.

Of the children who had seen a specialist, more dermatologists (57%) prescribed medium-potency and high-potency topical corticosteroids for children under aged 2 years than did allergists (30%) and pediatricians (15%) (P < .01), according to the study.

“These are our colleagues who are often very strong prescribers using systemic agents, and only 15% of pediatricians will do this,” Dr. Silverberg said. “We’re really looking at a big divide between us and other subspecialties and primary care, and [topical corticosteroids] are frequently underutilized because of these fears.”

In another study looking at the use of topical corticosteroids for AD in the pediatric emergency department (mean age of patients, 6.3 years), from 2012 to 2017, patients at 46 of 167 visits were prescribed over-the-counter topical hydrocortisone, while at 63 of 167 visits, patients were not prescribed or recommended any corticosteroid.

The mean class of the topical corticosteroid prescribed was 5.5, and the most commonly recommended corticosteroid was class 7 (the least potent available) in 61 of 104 patients (P < .001). A dermatologist was consulted in 14 of 167 visits (8.6%), and in those cases, topical corticosteroids were often prescribed (P = .018), as was a higher class of corticosteroids (a mean of 3.1 vs. 5.9; P < .001).

Topical corticosteroids also tend to be prescribed less by internal medicine physicians than by family medicine physicians or dermatologists. A 2020 study of ambulatory care data in the United States from 2006 to 2016 found that internists were 22 times less likely to prescribe topical corticosteroids for AD compared with dermatologists (5.1% vs. 52.2%; P = .001). But there was no significant difference in prescribing between family medicine physicians and dermatologists (39.1% vs. 52.2%, P = .27).

“We know they [corticosteroids] work, but so many people are fearful of them ... even with a low, low side effect profile,” Dr. Silverberg said.

For children with AD, corticosteroid use is “suboptimal” across the United States, with evidence that Medicaid-insured pediatric patients with AD are less likely to see a specialist and less likely to be prescribed high-potency topical corticosteroids compared with commercially-insured patients.


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