Background Topical corticosteroids remain the mainstay of atopic dermatitis therapy. Many atopic dermatitis therapeutic failures appear to be attributable to poor adherence to treatment due to topical corticosteroid phobia.
Objectives To assess the facets, origins and frequency of fear of topical corticosteroid use among patients with atopic dermatitis.
Methods A questionnaire comprising 69 items, generated from information gathered during interviews with 21 patients and 15 health professionals, was given to consecutive patients consulting at the outpatient dermatology departments of five regional university hospitals or with 53 dermatologists in private practice.
Results A total of 208 questionnaires were analysed (including 144 from parents and 87 from adult patients, 27 of whom were also parents); 80·7% of the respondents reported having fears about topical corticosteroids and 36% admitted nonadherence to treatment. A correlation was found between topical corticosteroid phobia and the need for reassurance, the belief that topical corticosteroids pass through the skin into the bloodstream, a prior adverse event, inconsistent information about the quantity of cream to apply, a desire to self-treat for the shortest time possible or poor treatment adherence. Topical corticosteroid phobia was not correlated with atopic dermatitis severity.
Conclusion Topical corticosteroid phobia is a genuine and complex phenomenon, common among French patients with atopic dermatitis, that has an important impact on treatment compliance.