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World J Pediatr. 2012 Aug;8(3):263-7. doi: 10.1007/s12519-012-0369-x. Epub 2012 Aug 12.

Paradoxical use of oral and topical steroids in steroid-phobic patients resorting to traditional Chinese medicines.

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Prince of Wales Hospital, Shatin, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China.



Childhood-onset eczema is a common condition associated with pruritus, sleep disturbance and disrupted quality of life. The mainstay of treatment is usage of emollients and topical corticosteroid (CS). Nevertheless, many steroid-phobic parents are very skeptical about western medicine that may contain CS. Furthermore, complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is popular among Chinese patients in Asia and many citizens idolize CAM and believe that traditional Chinese medicine and herbs are without any side effects. Pressed by public's quest for efficacious and safe treatment, and lucrative profits, CAM practitioners may take the risks of prescribing steroids and "western medicine" in the name of traditional Chinese herbal medicine.


We report a series of illustrative cases of uninformed systemic and topical corticosteroid usage for eczema by steroid-phobic parents to alert the public of this risk. The drugs were detected by high-performance liquid chromatography with diode-array detection, liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry, gas chromatography mass spectrometry, or liquid chromatography ion trap time-of-flight mass spectrometry.


Five cases of uninformed corticosteroid usage for moderate-to-severe eczema by steroid-phobic parents were reported.


The physician caring for children with skin disease should also be aware that even steroid-phobic parents might indeed be using potent CS without awareness. The patient usually suffers chronic relapsing eczema of moderate-to-severe degree. The steroid-phobic parent is usually non-compliant in following advice on usage of emollient, topical CS, and avoidance of triggers in accordance with western doctors. The CAM practitioner, when confronted by an anxious steroidophobic parent who demands efficacious topical and/or systemic treatment, may knowingly or unknowingly be forced into prescribing potent albeit illegal products containing corticosteroids in the name of traditional Chinese herbal medicine.

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