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Lab Test Interferences
Adverse Reactions
Patient Care Considerations
Patient/Family Education

Aeroseb-Dex, Decadron, Decaspray, Dexameth, Dexone, Hexadrol, Maxidex
Dexamethasone Acetate
Dalalone DP, Dalalone LA, Decadron-LA, Decaject-L.A., Dexasone-L.A., Dexone LA, Solurex
Dexamethasone Sodium Phosphate
AK-Dex, Dalalone, Decadron Phosphate, Decaject, Dexasone, Dexone, Hexadrol Phosphate,

Solurex, Baldex, Decadrol, Decadron Phosphate Injection, Dexadron Eye-Ear Solution,

Dexair, Dexotic, Diodex, Methasone, PMS-Dexamethasone Sodium Phosphate, Storz-Dexa
Class: Corticosteroid

Action Synthetic long-acting glucocorticoid that depresses formation, release and activity
of endogenous mediators of inflammation including prostaglandins, kinins, histamine, liposomal
enzymes and complement system. Also modifies body's immune response.

Indications Testing of adrenal cortical hyperfunction; management of primary or

secondary adrenal cortex insufficiency, rheumatic disorders, collagen diseases, dermatologic
diseases, allergic states, allergic and inflammatory ophthalmic processes, respiratory diseases,
hematologic disorders, neoplastic diseases, cerebral edema associated with primary or metastatic
brain tumor, craniotomy or head injury, edematous states (caused by nephrotic syndrome), GI
diseases, multiple sclerosis, tuberculous meningitis, trichinosis with neurologic or myocardial

Intra-articular or soft tissue administration: Short-term adjunctive treatment for such conditions
as synovitis of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, acute gouty arthritis, posttraumatic
osteoarthritis. Intralesional administration: Treatment for such conditions as keloids, psoriatic
plaques, discoid lupus erythematosus, alopecia areata. Topical: Treatment of inflammatory and
pruritic manifestations of corticosteroid-responsive dermatoses. Oral inhalation: Treatment of
corticosteroid-responsive and bronchial asthma bronchospastic states. Intranasal: Treatment of
allergic or inflammatory nasal conditions, nasal polyps (excluding those originating within
sinuses). Ophthalmic: Treatment of steroid-responsive inflammatory conditions of palpebral and
bulbar conjunctiva, lid, cornea and anterior segment of globe. Unlabeled use(s): Treatment of
acute mountain sickness, bacterial meningitis, bronchopulmonary dysplasia in preterm infants;
diagnosis of depression; treatment of hirsutism and use as antiemetic.

Contraindications Systemic fungal infections; IM use in idiopathic thrombocytopenic

purpura; administration of live virus vaccines; topical monotherapy in primary bacterial
infections; intranasal use in untreated localized infections involving nasal mucosa; ophthalmic
use in acute superficial herpes simplex keratitis, fungal diseases of ocular structures, vaccinia,
varicella and ocular tuberculosis.


All dosages shown are for adults unless indicated otherwise.


Initial dose: PO 0.75 to 9 mg/day. SUPPRESSION TESTS: Cushing's syndrome: PO 1 mg at 11


Alternate: PO 0.5 mg q 6 hr for 48 hr. To distinguish Cushing's syndrome–caused pituitary

ACTH excess from other causes: PO 2 mg q 6 hr for 48 hr. ACUTE MOUNTAIN SICKNESS:
PO 4 mg q 6 hr. ANTIEMETIC: PO 16 to 20 mg. DIAGNOSIS OF DEPRESSION: PO 1 mg.
HIRSUTISM: PO 0.5 to 1 mg/day.


SYSTEMIC: IM 8 to 16 mg; may repeat in 1 to 3 wk. INTERLESIONAL: IM 0.8 to 1.6 mg.

INTRA-ARTICULAR AND SOFT TISSUE: IM 4 to 16 mg; may repeat at 1 to 3 wk intervals.


SYSTEMIC: IV/IM 0.5 to 9 mg/day. CEREBRAL EDEMA: IV 10 mg, then IM 4 mg q 6 hr

until maximum response. BRAIN TUMORS: IV/IM 2 mg bid to tid. UNRESPONSIVE SHOCK:
IV 1 to 6 mg/kg as single injection; or 40 mg followed by repeated IV injections q 2 to 6 hr.
TISSUE: LARGE JOINTS: 2 to 4 mg. SMALL JOINTS: 0.8 to 1 mg. BURSAE: 2 to 3 mg.
to 2 mg. TOPICAL: Apply sparingly to affected areas bid to qid. ORAL INHALATION:
ADULTS: 3 inhalations tid to qid. CHILDREN: 2 inhalations tid to qid. INTRANASAL:
ADULTS: 2 sprays (168 mcg) into each nostril bid to tid. CHILDREN 6 to 12 yr: 1 or 2 sprays
(84 to 168 mcg) into each nostril bid. OPHTHALMIC: SOLUTION: Instill 1 to 2 drops into
conjunctival sac q 1 hr during day and q 2 hr during night. OINTMENT: Apply thin coating in
lower conjunctival sac tid to qid.


Aminoglutethimide: May decrease dexamethasone-induced adrenal suppression.

Anticholinesterases: May antagonize anticholinesterase effects in myasthenia gravis.
Anticoagulants, oral: May alter anticoagulant dose requirements. Barbiturates: May decrease
effects of dexamethasone. Hydantoins: May increase clearance and decrease therapeutic efficacy
of dexamethasone. Rifampin: May increase clearance and decrease therapeutic efficacy of
dexamethasone. Salicylates: May reduce serum levels and efficacy of salicylates.
Troleandomycin: May increase dexamethasone effects.

Lab Test Interferences May cause increased urine glucose and serum cholesterol;
decreased serum levels of potassium, T3 and T4; decreased uptake of thyroid 131I; false-negative
nitroblue-tetrazolium test; altered brain scan results; suppression of skin test reactions.

Adverse Reactions

CV: Thromboembolism or fat embolism; thrombophlebitis; necrotizing angiitis; cardiac

arrhythmias or ECG changes; syncopal episodes; hypertension; myocardial rupture; CHF. CNS:
Convulsions; increased intracranial pressure with papilledema (pseudotumor cerebri); vertigo;
headache; neuritis; paresthesias; psychosis. DERM: Impaired wound healing; thin fragile skin;
petechiae and ecchymoses; erythema; lupus erythematosus–like lesions; subcutaneous fat
atrophy; striae; hirsutism; acneiform eruptions; allergic dermatitis; urticaria; angioneurotic
edema, perineal irritation; hyperpigmentation or hypopigmentation. Topical application: Burning;
itching; irritation; erythema; dryness; folliculitis; hypertrichosis; pruritus; perioral dermatitis;
allergic contact dermatitis; stinging, cracking and tightening of skin; secondary infections; skin
atrophy; striae; miliaria; telangiectasia. EENT: Posterior subcapsular cataracts; increased IOP;
glaucoma; exophthalmos. Oral inhalation: Dry mouth; throat irritation; hoarseness; dysphonia;
coughing. Intranasal: Nasal irritation; burning; stinging; dryness; epistaxis or bloody mucus;
rebound congestion; sneezing, rhinorrhea; anosmia; loss of sense of taste; throat discomfort.
Ophthalmic: Glaucoma with optic nerve damage; visual acuity and field defects; posterior
subcapsular cataract formation; secondary ocular infections; transient stinging or burning. GI:
Pancreatitis; abdominal distension; ulcerative esophagitis; nausea; vomiting; increased appetite
and weight gain; peptic ulcer with perforation and hemorrhage; bowel perforation. GU:
Increased or decreased number and motility of spermatozoa. HEMA: Leukocytosis. META:
Sodium and fluid retention; hypokalemia; hypokalemic alkalosis; metabolic alkalosis;
hypocalcemia. RESP: Oral inhalation: Wheezing. OTHER: Musculoskeletal effects (eg,
weakness, myopathy, muscle mass loss, osteoporosis, spontaneous fractures); endocrine
abnormalities (eg, menstrual irregularities, cushingoid state, growth suppression in children
sweating, decreased carbohydrate tolerance, hyperglycemia, glycosuria, increased insulin or
sulfonylurea requirements in diabetics, anaphylactoid or hypersensitivity reactions); aggravation
or masking of infections; malaise; leukocytosis; fatigue; insomnia. Intra-articular: Osteonecrosis;
tendon rupture; infection; skin atrophy; postinjection flare; hypersensitivity; facial flushing.
Topical use may theoretically produce adverse reactions seen with systemic use because of


Pregnancy: Pregnancy category undetermined (systemic use); Category C (topical uses).

Lactation: Excreted in breast milk. Children: May be more susceptible to adverse reactions from
topical use than are adults. Observe growth and development of infants and children on
prolonged therapy. Elderly: May require lower doses. Adrenal suppression: Prolonged therapy
may lead to hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal suppression. Fluid and electrolyte balance: Can
cause elevated blood pressure, salt and water retention and increased potassium and calcium
excretion. Dietary salt restriction and potassium supplementation may be needed. Hepatitis: May
be harmful in chronic active hepatitis positive for hepatitis B surface antigen. Infections: May
mask signs of infection. May decrease host-defense mechanisms to prevent dissemination of
infection. Ocular effects: Use systemically with caution in ocular herpes simplex because of
possible corneal perforation. Ophthalmic use: Prolonged use may result in glaucoma or other
complications. Peptic ulcer: May contribute to peptic ulceration, especially in large doses. Renal
impairment: Use cautiously; monitor renal function. Stress: Increased dosage of rapidly acting
corticosteroid may be needed before, during and after stressful situations. Sulfites: Some
products may contain sodium bisulfite, which may cause allergic-type reactions in some
individuals. Withdrawal: Abrupt discontinuation may result in adrenal insufficiency. Discontinue



 For IM injection, inject dexamethasone acetate deep into gluteal muscle. Avoid injection
into deltoid, and rotate injection sites. Do not use SC route.
 Refer to package insert for directions on how to store particular form of dexamethasone.
 If ordered PO, administer in morning to coincide with body's normal secretion of cortisol.


 Obtain patient history, including drug history and any known allergies.
 Obtain baseline weight and vital signs.
 Assess involved system before and periodically during therapy.
 When used in child, periodically assess child's growth.
 Monitor intake and output.
 Assess patient regularly for signs of infection (delayed wound healing, WBC count)
because steroids can mask other common signs of infection such as fever, swelling and
 Notify physician if signs of fluid overload develop (peripheral edema, weight gain,
rales/crackles, dyspnea).
 If emotional changes occur, such as depression, take safety measures such as suicide
 If side effects develop with long-term therapy, expect to change to alternate-day therapy.
Check medication record and document well.


Acute overdose: Fever, myalgia, arthralgia, malaise,
anorexia, nausea, skin desquamation, orthostatic
hypotension, dizziness, fainting, dyspnea,
hypoglycemia. Chronic: Cushingoid changes:
Moonface, central obesity, striae, hirsutism, acne,
ecchymoses, hypertension, osteoporosis, myopathy,
sexual dysfunction, diabetes, hyperlipidemia, peptic
ulcer, infection, electrolyte and fluid imbalance

Patient/Family Education

 Caution patient that stopping drug abruptly is dangerous and may cause adrenal
 Explain rationale for tapering off medication when that time comes.
 Teach patient or family procedures for correctly administering specific form of drug
(ophthalmic, inhalation, topical, etc.).
 Caution patient against receiving immunizations while drug is being taken.
 Advise patient on long-term therapy to carry medication identification card or to wear
bracelet. In case of emergency, this information is important for treatment.
 Instruct patient to avoid people with infections, particularly respiratory.
 If form patient is receiving is intranasal, instruct him/her to clear nasal passages of
secretions before administering drug.
 If topical, advise patient not to use occlusive dressings such as plastic wrap more than 12
hrs a day. Occlusion may lead to sweat retention and bacterial and fungal infections.
Remember that tight-fitting plastic diapers on infants may also be occlusive.
 Teach patient to take oral forms with meals or snacks if GI irritation occurs.
 Review guidelines for missed doses of particular product with patient.
 Teach patient on long-term therapy how to keep a weight record.
 Instruct patient to inform other physicians that he/she is taking a steroid.
 Review signs of infection and remind patient that fever, swelling and redness may be
masked in infection.
 Review possible side effects of dexamethasone with patient and instruct him/her to report
these to physician.

Copyright © 2003 Facts and Comparisons
David S. Tatro
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