Steroid injections: helpful or harmful?

PADUCAH – No one has time to be sick. You’re too busy with work and your family. When don’t feel well, you want a quick fix, so you turn to what many of us know as the “snot shot.” It’s a steroid injection.

You can go to almost any local clinic and get one, some may say it’s too easy to get one. You should be going into the doctor’s office aware of its risks.

Melissa Barton has been struggling with chronic pain in her back and elbow for years. “It’s like tennis elbow, I couldn’t move my arm, it hurt,” Barton said.

She depends on steroids injections to relieve her pain. It’s applied directly to her joint.

“Soon as I walk out of here, it’s fine for about two and half months,” Barton said. “Whether you can walk better with the knee injection, or sit down better with the back, it doesn’t matter, you’re better,”

She trusts her doctor, Alex Wright at Lourdes Mercy Health. He sees more than 30 patients a day, half of those, need steroid injections for chronic pain.

“I use them mainly to avoid having to use other more dangerous methods such as pain meds and to help prevent surgery for patients at risk,” Wright said.

Wright says steroids are the ultimate anti-inflammatory for the body, but too much can be a bad thing.

“Steroids once again come from a natural origin, our body produces those naturally,” Wright said. “So, if we receive too much steroid regardless of that being steroid injections steroid through IV at the hospital or oral steroids our body will start having really a decreased production of our own natural steroids. It’s a very serious medication overall, it can be a very powerful and potent and important tool in the doctor’s toolbox to use,”

That’s why Wright says the injections shouldn’t be used for ‘acute illnesses’ like allergies or sinus infections.

“If it’s somebody that’s healthy such as myself having a sniffle or sore throat sneeze, steroids in that case probably going to be overused and inappropriate,” Wright said. “In general, if there is no pressing matter or underlying major issues such as asthma or something that can flare up then a steroid is probably not your best option,”

Wright says our area is high in steroid usage. Both providers and patients are getting used to those treatments, which means higher demand. 

“Whenever you’re dealing with any therapy for an or short term illness, it’s always hard to decide honestly if the therapy has really helped speed things up, versus the placebo effect on it, as patients get used to it then they think, ‘okay I’ve gotten this treatment, I’m going to feel better,'” Wright said.

Although steroid injections can give you quick relief, they come with side effects if used too often, high blood pressure, thinning of the bone, osteoporosis, irritability, hormonal imbalance, cataract formation, acne, sleeping issues and more.

The medical journal “Aging Health” says steroid shots make bones more fragile. Regular use for one year can lead to a 10 percent loss of bone density, making you more susceptible to fractures, even for younger people.

Austin Smith says he dreads blooming season, springtime. “I was kinda open to anything to get some relief,” Smith said.

He’s been taking allergy medicine since he was a child. He got the steroid shot for the first time six months ago at the Four Rivers Walk-in Clinic.

“If you struggle with sinus issues, it’s really hard to find a solution,” Smith said. “I kinda asked them for the shot this time,”

Four Rivers Walk-in Clinic is open from 7 to 7, every day of the week, and 8 to 4 p.m. on weekends. Nurse Jesse Meiser says they do at least 40 steroid injections every day combined with an antibiotic.

“It’s not enough to keep those symptoms at bay so they can function,” Meiser said. “A steroid shot helps them get back to their daily life quicker. Those medicines can be combined safely and the volume is safe to go ahead and inject that volume.”

Although these two medical professionals disagree on terms of use of the steroid injection, they both recommend asking questions before getting one.

Talk to your doctor, understand what your options are, and make sure you don’t get more than three a year. Those simple considerations could keep you on track for a healthy life.

It’s important to note that while steroid shots are being prescribed more now, clinics don’t benefit from how many shots they give out.

Anabolic steroids are often used to enhance an athlete’s performance. They are not to be confused with cortisone steroids which fight inflammation.