Dexamethasone tablets and liquid

About dexamethasone tablets and liquid

Dexamethasone is a medicine used to treat a wide range of health conditions. These include:

It's used in hospitals as a treatment for severe cases of COVID-19 (coronavirus) and other serious infections.

It can also help reduce the side effects of cancer treatment, or some of your symptoms if you're having end of life care.

Dexamethasone is a type of medicine called a steroid (corticosteroid). Corticosteroids are a copy of a hormone your body makes naturally. They're not the same as anabolic steroids.

It's available on prescription only and comes as tablets, soluble tablets and as a liquid you drink. It can be given by injection but this is usually only done in hospital.

It also comes as drops and a spray to treat ear and eye infections.

Key facts

Who can and cannot use dexamethasone tablets and liquid

Most adults and children (including babies) can take dexamethasone.

Dexamethasone is not suitable for some people. Tell your doctor before starting on this medicine if:

How and when to take dexamethasone

Dosage

Always follow your doctor's instructions when taking this medicine.

Take dexamethasone with after eating a meal or snack, or immediately after eating. Do not take it on an empty stomach.

For soluble tablets, dissolve them in a glass of water then drink it all. For other tablets, swallow them whole with a drink of water.

Liquid dexamethasone comes with a plastic syringe or spoon to help you measure out the correct dose. Do not use a kitchen teaspoon as it will not give you the right amount.

Adults – you'll usually take between 0.5mg and 10mg a day. For some conditions the dose can go up to 16mg a day.

Children – doses are usually lower for a child. The doctor will use your child's height and weight to work out the right dose for them.

For treating croup, your child will usually have a single one-off dose.

How often to take it

You'll usually take dexamethasone once a day. Take it in the morning with or immediately after your breakfast.

Unless your doctor gives you different instructions, take your full dose in one go. For example, if your dose is 6mg, your doctor may tell you to take three 2mg tablets at the same time.

If your doctor prescribes dexamethasone 2 or 3 times a day, take your last dose before 6pm. It will be less likely to affect your sleep.

For some conditions you may not need to take dexamethasone every day. Your doctor might tell you to take it every other day instead.

Will my dose go up or down?

If you're taking dexamethasone for longer than a few weeks, your dose may change.

Your doctor may reduce your dose once your symptoms start to get better. If your symptoms get worse again, they may increase your dose again.

Your doctor will probably reduce your dose gradually before you stop completely. This is to reduce the risk of withdrawal symptoms.

What if I forget to take it?

If you take dexamethasone once a day and miss a dose, take it as soon as you remember. If you do not remember until the following day, skip the missed dose and take the next one at the usual time.

If you take it 2 or 3 times a day, take the missed dose as soon as you remember, unless it's less than 2 hours until your next dose. In this case, skip the missed dose and take the next one as normal.

Do not take a double dose to make up for a forgotten one.

If you forget doses often, it may help to set an alarm to remind you. You could also ask your pharmacist for advice on other ways to help you remember to take your medicine.

What if I take too much?

Taking 1 or 2 extra dexamethasone tablets as a one-off is unlikely to harm you. If you're worried, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.

If you take too much dexamethasone for more than a few days, it could harm your health. Talk to your doctor as soon as possible.

Side effects

Common side effects

Like all medicines, dexamethasone can cause side effects, although not everyone gets them.

Side effects are less likely if you are on a lower dose (less than 6mg a day).

Common side effects happen in more than 1 in 100 people.

Keep taking the medicine, but tell your doctor if these side effects bother you or do not go away:

Serious side effects

Serious side effects are more likely with higher doses (more than 6mg a day) or if you take dexamethasone for more than a few weeks or months.

Call a doctor straight away if you get:

Children and teenagers

Taking dexamethasone at higher doses for a long time can slow down the normal growth of children and teenagers.

Your child's doctor will monitor their height and weight carefully for as long as they're taking this medicine. This will help them spot any slowing down of your child's growth and change their treatment if needed.

Even if your child's growth slows down, it does not seem to have much effect on their eventual adult height.

Talk to your doctor if you're worried. They'll be able to explain the benefits and risks of giving your child dexamethasone.

Serious allergic reaction

In rare cases, it's possible to have a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to dexamethasone.

Call 999 or go to A&E if:
  • you get a skin rash that may include itchy, red, swollen, blistered or peeling skin
  • you're wheezing
  • you get tightness in the chest or throat
  • you have trouble breathing or talking
  • your mouth, face, lips, tongue or throat start swelling

You could be having a serious allergic reaction and may need immediate treatment in hospital.

These are not all the side effects of dexamethasone. For a full list see the leaflet inside your medicines packet.

You can report any suspected side effect to a medicine or vaccine used in coronavirus treatment at the Yellow Card reporting site.

Visit Yellow Card for further information.

How to cope with side effects of dexamethasone

What to do about:

Pregnancy and breastfeeding

Dexamethasone and pregnancy

Dexamethasone is not usually recommended in pregnancy.

Steroids have sometimes been linked to problems in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Taking them for a long time, or at a high dose, can also affect your baby's growth during pregnancy.

Your doctor may prescribe dexamethasone for you, if they think the benefits outweigh the risks. If you need to take dexamethasone while pregnant, you will have more frequent checks to see how your baby is growing.

Dexamethasone and breastfeeding

You can usually take dexamethasone while you're breastfeeding.

However, dexamethasone can get into breast milk. Ask your doctor or health visitor for advice about breastfeeding while taking this medicine. For this reason, wait at least 3 hours after you take your medicine before breastfeeding your baby or expressing milk.

If you're taking a high dose your baby may need monitoring. This is to make sure they do not have side effects from the medicine.

If you notice your baby is not feeding as well as usual or seems unusually sleepy, or if you have any other concerns about your baby, talk to your health visitor or doctor.

Tell your doctor if you're:

  • trying to get pregnant
  • pregnant
  • breastfeeding

For more information about how this medicine can affect you and your baby during pregnancy, read the leaflet on dexamethasone on the Best Use of Medicines in Pregnancy (BUMPS) website.

Cautions with other medicines

Mixing dexamethasone with herbal remedies or supplements

Some medicines can affect how dexamethasone works. This can increase your chance of side effects.

Check with a pharmacist or your doctor before starting on dexamethasone if:

There is very little information about taking dexamethasone with herbal remedies and vitamin or mineral supplements.

Not enough research has been done to say whether it's safe.

Important

For safety, tell your doctor or pharmacist if you take any other medicines, including herbal remedies, vitamins or supplements.

Common questions about dexamethasone

How does dexamethasone work? How is dexamethasone used to treat COVID-19 (coronavirus)? When will I feel better? How long will I take dexamethasone for? Can I take dexamethasone for a long time? What will happen if I stop taking it? Can I still have vaccinations? Do I need a steroid card? Will it affect my mood? Do I need to be careful of infections? Can I drink alcohol with it? Is there any food or drink I need to avoid? Will it affect my fertility? Will it affect my contraception? Can I drive or ride a bike?