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. Alicia

    I am 40. I was prescribed 60mg of prednisone (20mg /3x/day). I am on day 5. My treatment could last 1 to 2 years. My symptoms are clearing up, somewhat…but, I feel like I’m in limbo…. I’m not doing too bad. I’m a bit more tired than usual…but, overall – none of these terrible issues. Am I in the calm before the storm or am I going to be one of the lucky ones who won’t suffer from the extreme effects? My condition is considered progressive to fatal if not controlled, so I don’t have any other choice right now. My doctor has me on Calcium and Vit D in addition to my prednisone everyday. He advised me to get a mammogram, pap smear, vision check, etc….just to determine baselines and whatnot. He is incredibly receptive to emails and phone calls. I feel like he is taking very good care of me….. I just feel like I am waiting for the hammer to fall….. Does anyone take high-dose, long-term steroids and escape all the havoc?

  2. Gwenola Barr

    I have severe brittle asthma and as such have been on prednisone periodically since the age of three.

    I’m used to going on two-six week tapering doses of prednisone/prednisilone every year at least twice for severe bronchitis, pneumonia or double pneumonia.

    As I got older this was reduced to three day stints for bronchitis and upper respitory infections.

    When I was 21 I suddenly experienced the weirdest body shock, tingles and chest pain. I was rushed to hospital and found to have crazy hyperkaleamia (elevated potassium levels) at three points over the acceptable levels. They couldn’t find the cause as they burnt off quicky with salbutamol and glucose. Doctors and specialists speculated if it was my excessive clarinet playing (laughable) or the most recent stint of prednisone (more likely).

    I did all I could to avoid prednisone at all costs and was even removed from all bronchodilators that had a inhaled corticosteroid base. That worked poorly for my asthma but great for everything else.

    I’m about to turn 25, on a three week streak of prednisilone and counting. I’m also petrifying my new husband. The constant changes in my inhalers has done irreversible damage and scar tissue to my lungs while sending me to hospital with severe asthma attacks and paradoxical bronchospams three times in the last week. I’ve been bouncing between 50mg, 25mg and 12.5mg of prednisilone during this time and my system is nuts.

    I loathe corticosteriods. Immensely. However…if I had more competent physicians perhaps I wouldn’t have had four years of asthma suicide. Prednisone or dead lungs? Prednisone any day.

    I really hope people think of others who have to take corticosteroids for excessive peroids of time even years! I count blessings even when the cushing’s syndrome kicks in that I know I can at least taper off in a few weeks.

    Perspective please people. If you only have to have it for a sinus infection or a minor allergy count yourself lucky.

  3. CJK

    My husband is on prednisone. I am allergic to it. He sweats a lot since taking this drug. Am I in danger if exposed to his body fluids?

  4. Dloos

    I was presribed Prednisone and an antiviral for Shingles. I had a ten day prescription starting at 60 MG dosage. After three days, I started the taper down.
    My shingles symptoms were knocked out the first day, and I was so grateful. But, even though I tried to ask questions about what to expect from the drugs, no one really told me what to expect. I have been off all the drugs for six days. Still feeling very shaky, weak, and generally not myself. I tire easily, feel very hot and sweaty. My emotions are all over the place.
    My heart goes out to anyone who has to use this drug for very long. I hope I never have anything serious enough to make me take it again. I will avoid it if I can.

  5. vivian mccarter

    The Dr.’s put me on prednisone mainly b/c of my weght loss, ilost down to 82lbs after my first by-pass. which did put weight back on me,well, I thought it was weight, it was actually fluid building up

    • Andrew

      I just had sinus surgery and caught a cold, once the blood had stopped from the surgery the cold or bacteria had started to block my ears and I still couldn’t smell. Took 20mg of cortisone, and I could smell for the first time, ears popped and I felt wonderful.

      Will not continue on, but it is a wonderful drug

    • rlf

      I too have the emotion side effect, I didn’t know what was causing it until I seen this site. I’ve not been in such a deep depressive state like this for a long long time. I’m halfway through my doses and hope it will get better fast.

  6. Serouj

    Cortisone is a miraculous drug but only if you know when and how to use it. I’m 28 years old only and this drug ruined my life because of taking it for so long, without the Dr. Approval since it is so cheap and I could have it without a prescription. It Cured my IBS so well that I got addicted to it.

    Please be careful, don’t make a lifetime mistake, I can literally fill pages of my story. In short, I ended up having bilateral total hip replacements, and then MRSA followed up…

    • Andrew

      I just had sinus surgery and caught a cold, once the blood had stopped from the surgery the cold or bacteria had started to block my ears and I still couldn’t smell. Took 20mg of cortisone, and I could smell for the first time, ears popped and I felt wonderful.

      Will not continue on, but it is a wonderful drug

  7. SC

    I was prescribed Prednisone for a sinus infection. No cautions from the Dr. or the Pharmacist. Took 1st dose of 20 mg Friday evening, then 2 of same doses on Saturday, 12 hours apart. Slept terrible Saturday night. When others say “don’t stop suddenly” do 3 doses indicate a high enough level that I need to worry? I would rather just take the amoxicillian and not the steroid…is that a problem?

  8. David
    New York

    I was very surprised to hear the terrible side effects people are experiencing. I am 66 and very allergic to bee stings. I found out at age 60 that prednisone can be used to treat the severe symptoms I get. It works quickly to knock down the swelling, sting, itch and redness. It’s amazing how long it takes to find out health saving information. I have had Prednisone before for some sinus infections and the like. If it weren’t so bad for your body long term I would like to be able to take it like aspirin if needed. It gave me great well being, lots of energy, a great appetite and all my aches and pains were non existant. This stuff is great! However it is a controlled substance and probably should be because of the distructive things it can do to your body. If you look at any drug prescription you get, there is a whole page of side effects for all of them. If you read that first, you probably wouldn’t want to take any of them! However, you have to weigh the good with the bad and see how the drug works for you. If you are having these reactions you need to contact your doctor(as the directions say) and have her/him change you to a different drug that will have little or no side effects. Sometimes, it will take a while to find the best drug that fits your needs. Sometimes, some people will be susceptible to every drug tried and you will unfortunately have to cope with the misery of side effects until the major problem is treated. I found out at age 60 from a first time doctor at an On Call treatment center that the prednisone worked so well for my bee stings, Hope you can find the right Dr. for your needs. Hope your side effects clear up quickly. Good luck and God Bless.-Dave

  9. Wanda

    Just can’t believe that 95% of comments are all negative. I had symptoms of Giant Cell Arteritis for 6 weeks, lost 14 lbs, didn’t eat, didn’t know why, headache, a fever for weeks, lethargic, then, noticed the temple area was discolored. Put on prednisone 60mg and within 24 hrs, EVERY symptom stopped! For me…a miracle drug. Few side effects, like dry mouth, swollen ankles and a little unsteady on my feet. Positive test for the Giant Cell Arteritis, so, will continue on it for a year or more. I’m 90.

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