Prednisone (and similar corticosteroids) can be a life saving drug. It saved my sanity when I developed sudden hearing loss in one ear. That was a really scary experience for someone who depends on hearing to be able to do live radio.

The ear, nose and throat specialist diagnosed my deafness as “idiopathic sudden sensorineural hearing loss.” In other words, he didn’t have a clue what caused it. He did prescribe high doses of prednisone and within a few days my hearing returned.

Similar corticosteroids like Prednisone include

  • Cortisone
  • Dexamethasone
  • Hydrocortisone
  • Methylprednisolone
  • Prednisolone

There are many conditions for which such drugs can be extremely valuable, even life saving. Here are just a few:

When Prednisone is Helpful

  • Very serious allergic reactions (bad poison ivy for example)
  • Anaphylactic shock (life-threatening allergic reaction)
  • Brain tumors
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease)
  • Severe asthma (usually to help control acute flare-ups)
  • Severe nausea of chemotherapy
  • High altitude sickness (when there is brain swelling)
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Addison’s disease
  • Rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR)
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Giant cell arteritis

As useful as corticosteroids can be for a wide range of conditions, the drugs can also cause an extraordinary number of serious side effects. Some people have likened this to a deal with the devil. Even short-term use can cause problems.

My personal experience with Prednisone

The week or two that I took prednisone for my hearing loss I couldn’t sleep, became incredibly irritable and hard to live with, and felt as if I had turned into someone I didn’t know or like. A study in the American Journal of Psychiatry analyzed data from hundreds of thousands of European patients over an 18 year period.

They discovered that people taking corticosteroids were more likely to experience neuropsychiatric symptoms including depression, suicidal thoughts (and actions), delirium, disorientation, confusion, panic and manic episodes.

The authors conclude that: “Glucocorticoids [another term for corticosteroids] increase the risk of suicidal behavior and neuropsychiatric disorders. Educating patients and their families about these adverse events and increasing primary care physicians’ awareness about their occurrence should facilitate early monitoring.”

I can relate. I certainly felt disoriented and out of control on the relatively high dose I was taking. The trouble is that patients and their families are not always warned about such side effects.

Scary Prednisone side effects that have been reported to us

“Years ago I was given prednisone in the emergency room for a severe anaphylactic reaction that affected my ability to breathe and caused massive hives. Although the treatment may have been necessary, I too had a severe psychotic reaction and when I finally went to my own doctor and had blood tests, my blood chemistry was all over the map. I had to continue the tapered dose till I was done but I wish someone had warned me of possible side effects so at least I wouldn’t think I was totally crazy.

“I questioned my ability to drive, slept constantly, and was quite volatile. I had to take a day off from work. Knowledge is power! People should be warned about possible side effects so they have the information should side effects occur.”


“I was on 20mg twice a day of prednisone for a sinus infection. Had I known anything about this horrible drug I would have never taken the meds and let my sinus infection clear up on its own. That would have been better than these side effects.
“I was not told to taper the dose, so I took as prescribed 20mg twice daily for 7 days. The day after stopping my whole body hurt to the touch, as if I was black and blue all over. I was swollen, red and had a lump on my neck, not to mention being very disoriented. I went back to the doctor and he insisted this had nothing to do with the drug.
“I checked myself into the ER where they put an IV drip with benadryl and the like. I was discharged that day. No change. Next day, didn’t hurt to the touch anymore. New side effect – rash from head to toe and severe indigestion. Following day, rash subsiding, indigestion getting better. Still feeling a bit loopy, but I am told by next week I should be back to myself again.
“I am warning everyone i know not to ever take a steroid unless your life is in danger. It is a very scary feeling – all for a sinus infection.”

“I’m having Prednisone side effects. My doctor prescribed this drug last Thursday. She prescribed 20mg twice daily for five days. I was sleepless for three days in row. On day 4 after a short nap I awake feeling so nervous. I am crying, my hands are shaking, and my heart is beating so hard. These are awful feelings.
“My doctor told me I will feel that way for about nine days. She didn’t show any care about me. She also said I can go back to work (and drive a long way) the next day. But the way I was and am feeling I’m not daring to drive even one block.
“I do not understand why she prescribed that medicine, without any warning, for a small allergy I had. I mean the medicine was worse than my illness.”

“My wife had sleepless nights when on prednisone and the doctor said that she might do some odd things that she normally wouldn’t do. He was right. One night she got up and tore down the wall paper in our bathroom :-) We still get a laugh over this one.”
-Bob K.

“I am experiencing high blood pressure, agoraphobia, panic attacks, light headedness, confusion, weakness, intolerance to heat, IBS, shaking, etc. These side effects all started the day I stopped the drug. It has been 7 days with not much improvement. I was hospitalized for 3 days. I pray I do not EVER have to take prednisone again… EVER.
“I am hoping I get past this. My quality of life stinks. I took 30mg 1 day 20mg 2 days and 1 mg 2 days. Absolutely HATE this.”

These are just some of the messages that have been posted to our website. Feel free to add your story or comment below. We find it astonishing that some prescribers do not warn patients about the possibility of psychological side effects brought on by prednisone and friends. Even a short-course of high-dose steroid can precipitate symptoms. And not warning about gradual tapering borders on bad medicine. To protect yourself and your loved ones from such medical mistakes we suggest our latest book, Top Screw-ups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them.

We want to emphasize that corticosteroids can be very valuable. Some people must take them for the rest of their lives because of a very serious or life-threatening condition. And NO ONE should ever stop taking a drug like prednisone suddenly. It must be phased off gradually under medical supervision.

Other side effects associated with corticosteroids like Prednisone

  • Fluid retention, edema
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability, nervousness, mood swings, mania, depression, psychosis
  • Disorientation, confusion
  • Hypertension
  • Loss of potassium
  • Headache
  • Dizziness, vertigo
  • Muscle weakness
  • Blood sugar elevation (diabetes)
  • Irregular menstrual cycles
  • Swollen face
  • Hair growth (including on the face)
  • Itching, rash, hives
  • Increased susceptibility to infection
  • Weakened bones (osteopenia, osteoporosis)
  • Tendon rupture
  • Glaucoma
  • Cataracts
  • Ulcers

The higher the dose and the longer someone takes a drug like prednisone the more likely there will be side effects. Make sure your physician is monitoring things like potassium, blood sugar, bone density and psychological well being. And never stop a corticosteroid suddenly!

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  1. Helen

    I’ve been taking 5mg. of prednisone for almost a year. I took an initial large dose to get rid of the inflammation and swelling of my joints. It has been a miracle. No side effects like mentioned in other reviews.

  2. Tara

    I have been on 50 mg for 3 days (prescribed for 5 days). I woke up in agonizing pain today. From the base of my skull down is in excruciating pain to the touch. I am not going to take anymore. I saw a physician because I had some symptoms of a blood clot. It turned out to be a blood vessel that had burst (thankfully). They gave me prednisone and pain meds and I really thought it would help. It did NOT! :-(

  3. Ann

    Hi I have asthma and I get severe chest infections/wheeze a few times each year and I simply wouldn’t breathe without steroids. In the past I have ended up in hospital due to NOT getting a steroid prescription for my infection.

    I find that the trick is to only take the steroids when you really need them ect for your condition, short courses throughout the year can work well. Also I always always come off them slowly once feeling better,never just STOP them ,even a short course as this will course you a shock to your body until your own steroids kick back in ect. Taper them over a few days slowly and it’s much easier, I know this as I’m age50 and have had asthma for 25 years.

    Side effects are difficult at times and effect everyone differently be I find the sleeplessness difficult, I drink camamile tea or milky drinks before bed and it helps too.I als e.g milk yogurt ect daily and take supplements of calcium to protect my bones.I find a positive attitude helps grateful I can now breathe ect as Prednisone is a great drug for many things, I don’t dwell on the side effects as again not everyone gets them and I have dextra bone scan every 2 years, to check my bones, very important.

    So I advice try and weigh up the pros and cons before taking this meds, yes there are side effects yes they are can be vile but for myself for example I prob wouldn’t be around if it wasn’t for this drug.I won’t live my life fearing what might be, gratefully for my day ect best regards to you all

  4. Patty

    I started taking them for sudden hearing loss in my right ear. 60 mg for 14 days then taper down for 5 days. I have experienced tremors in my hands, nervousness, confusion, sleeplessness, irritability, weakness in my legs and hands, feet are hot, headaches, at times blurred vision, and there is no way I could drive. Every corner I felt I was going to crash, talk about a panic attack.

    And now I have been started on another 3 weeks. When this is done, I will not do it again.
    My ENT does not believe you should be out of work for the side effects. I will probably lose my job and my hearing.

  5. Lori

    I was taking it from Saturday to Wednesday morning and I’m so sick I stop taking it it is now Thursday evening I’m all over the place I’m scared I just read your articles so I took a half of one because I don’t want to suddenly stop taking it I feel like I’m dying period I’m so irritable my joints hurt my fingers hurt I suddenly within 5 minutes broke out with acne all over my face which I never have this is the worst thing I’ve ever put up with it’s horrible

    • Jan
      Aiken, SC

      Lori, I feel for you. Are you sure you broke out in acne, or was it hives? When I was weened off of it, I got hives and had to be put back on and weened off slower. You may want to talk to your Dr. if they continue. I had all the symptoms that you are describing and more, but eventually it does get better.

  6. Jim

    Hi, I had a severe hand issue (swelling, joint pain that ran all the way up to my shoulder blade) that was impossible to sleep due to the pain. I thought I had Lyme disease and went several times to clinic, and had blood tests. Turns out it was carpal tunnel, and dr prescribed prednisone and arm braces .. Yeah right… But it worked. Started 50mg prednisone x 5 days, then 40 for 5 days, 30 for 5 days etc. just finishing the 30mg and hands are better. … Feel like I used to. Side effects?? … Some insomnia but nothing a cold beer or two can’t cure. I was scared, now relieved. :)

    • Betty S.

      I was put on Prednisone for chest congestion. Small dose 15 mg then boosted it a few days to 20 mg then slow drop off. I have Peripheral artery disease and other conditions. I swear I hadn’t felt that great in 10 years, but was told I couldn’t stay on it. Everyone I know hates prednisone. After being off about 10 days though I have experienced a possible herinated disc in low back. For this I was put back on Predisone. This is a higher dose and I have experienced real short temper swings. Is this the Predisone or the horrid pain. It took 2 days for the pain to subside . I understand it is a miracle drug, yet so many scary side effects. Why do some people feel so good and most feel so bad?

  7. JGirl05
    Alexandria, Va

    Thank you for this thread. I went to ENT today who said I should take an antibiotic for 2 weeks plus prednisone for 6 days-starting off with 60 mg 1st day then decreasing each day. This is for a severe sinus infection. After reading this thread, I WILL NOT take the prednisone. I’m 50 years old and having menopausal symptoms like sleepless nights and depression. The last thing I need is to take something that sends me over the edge. Thanks everyone.

  8. Cathy

    I have had rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia for over 20 years. I was recently diagnosed with Sjogrens Syndrome and am on Enbrel, Plaquenil and Gapabentin. In February I was diagnosed with Polymyalgia Rheumatic which is very painful especially in my feet, shoulders and arms. I was started on Prednisone 20 mg a day which helped the pain after a few days. I recently started weaning off of it. I’m really struggling because my symptoms are coming back which means I would need to increase the dose again. However the side effects are terrible and haven’t improved with decreasing the dose. I have that awful moon face look and terrible weight gain. I also ended up with diabetes and am on Insulin and oral medications. I am retaining so much fluid and am very short of breath and now am on Lasix. Which is the worst of 2 evils?

  9. Catherine

    I took just one 20 mg prednisone pill. Next morning, my stomach was like being 7 months pregnant. I find it very abnormal. This lasted all day yesterday. I decided to drink a bottle of that magnesium nastiness. It’s cleaning me out, however, my stomach is still huge. It’s 3:42 am Fri. I took the pill Wed morning. I am very sensitive to meds. I’m on the lowest dose of lexapro and klonopin. I was told there would be no interactions. Now, I’ll have to go see my reg. Dr today.

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