How to Use Antibiotic Ointment: Uses, Types, Side Effects, More

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What is an Antibiotic Ointment? Ointments are creams and gels you can put on your skin to kill bacteria. They can be very effective sometimes. For example, if you have a rash or an infected cut, an ointment can help it heal. Antibiotic creams are not usually dangerous and are very effective if used at the right time. However, they have some risks as you may get an allergic reaction from using them. In addition, they can be harmful if swallowed and create antibiotic-resistant bacteria if you misuse them.

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What is an Antibiotic Ointment Used For?

Many people use ointments to treat cuts, scrapes, and burns that have become infected. Over-the-counter medications used for treating minor infected wounds are also available. When someone has an infected cut, they often use an antibiotic cream to treat it. Unfortunately, most people will only talk to a doctor if the infected cut worsens. The best idea is to discuss with your doctor early and ask for advice about your antibiotic cream.

How Do You Use Antibiotic Ointment?

First, clean and dry the skin where you intend to apply the antibiotic ointment. Apply a small amount of cream to the area each day. Add more cream one to three times a day.

List of Antibiotic Ointments

You can find a lengthy list of ointments (topical antibiotics) here. Both prescription and over-the-counter topical antibiotics are listed.

Antibiotic Ointment for Skin Infections

Ointments can treat many skin infections, but not all of them. For example, antibiotics will do nothing if your skin infection is caused by a virus rather than bacteria.

How to Get Ointments Online

You can order ointments online legally from Amazon. There are also lots of other smaller online retailers that will sell you antibiotic ointment legally. They are not usually prescription medications.

Different Types of Antibiotic Ointments

There are both prescription ointments and over-the-counter ointments. You can also use a topical antibiotic on your eyes to treat eye infections. Someone allergic to one antibiotic might not be allergic to another with different ingredients. Another type is a first aid antibiotic, used specifically for treating injuries.

Difference Between Antibiotic Creams and Antiseptics

Both antiseptics and antibiotics kill microbes, but they are not the same. Ointments include Neosporin and polysporin, and antiseptics include peroxide and rubbing alcohol. Antiseptics do not usually kill bacteria; they only prevent them from multiplying. This can be effective, but antibiotics are stronger than antiseptics. Many antibiotics require a prescription, but you can get ointment without one.

Who Should Not Use Antibiotic Ointment?

You should never use an ointment if you are allergic to it or to some of the ingredients. In addition, antibiotics are not necessarily safe for pregnant/nursing women or children. Don’t use antibiotics if they aren’t necessary. For example, suppose you have a small cut that is not infected or a minor rash that will go away quickly and is not likely to be infected. Also, antibiotics only work against bacteria, not viruses, so don’t use them for any viral condition.

Ointment Allergies

Allergic reactions to an ointment can range from minor to very serious. For example, you may get small red bumps, a red patch on your skin, or hives. These are minor symptoms, but you should stop using the product if you get an allergic reaction.

More serious symptoms include swelling, severe itching, or blisters. In addition, you might experience vision problems and conditions such as toxic epidermal necrolysis.

Anaphylaxis is another severe condition you may get in the worst cases. It leads to a tight throat and difficulty breathing, plus dizziness. Call an ambulance right away because anaphylaxis is dangerous. Usually, you can use a topical antibiotic without any side effects. However, if you get severe side effects, especially anaphylaxis, you need medical attention.

Side Effects of Ointments

Usually, you can use an ointment without any side effects. Ointments are not entirely safe. However, they are mild enough that they typically don’t have side effects. At worst, ointments can lead to a severe allergic reaction. In addition, difficulty breathing, rash, itching, swelling, or dizziness may mean you have an allergic reaction and need medical attention. Thankfully, this is rare – side effects usually tend to be mild or absent.

Occasionally, a topical antibiotic can cause a fungal or bacterial infection. Sometimes, using an ointment to treat a skin infection can lead to another type of infection.

Antibiotic Cream Interactions and Warnings

Some medications that are safe on their own can become dangerous if they interact adversely with other medicines. For example, since both Benadryl (the allergy drug) and alcohol lower your heart rate, they should never be taken together. Read the label carefully when buying a triple antibiotic or other ointments. It may warn against using the product when you are taking certain drugs. Inform your doctor about other medications you use, including herbal ones. In particular, let your doctor know if you use other topical products.

Can Ointment Be Used On Children?

Sometimes, ointments are safe for kids, depending on the antibiotic, how much you use, and the kid’s age. Antibiotics are not inherently harmful to children. However, children are more vulnerable to side effects of all kinds, so talk to your doctor first. You should also look at the product description. Sometimes, it will say that the antibiotic is not for children under a certain age.

Many children go to the emergency room yearly after they are given antibiotics they should not have had. This does not mean you should never give a child antibiotics, but talk to your doctor before giving them triple antibiotic ointment.

Can Ointment Be Used During Pregnancy or Breastfeeding?

Antibiotics, including ointments, are not necessarily safe during pregnancy. You should talk to a doctor first. If you use the wrong medication during pregnancy or breastfeeding, it can affect and harm your baby. However, antibiotics can be safe a lot of the time, depending on the dose and depending on the antibiotic. Sometimes, the dose your baby will be exposed to is so low that it could not do any harm. But, again, talk to your doctor first – they know the most about how safe an antibiotic is.

Can You Use Antibiotic Cream on New Tattoos and Piercings?

Many people overuse antibiotics. This can adversely affect the infected person and other people because it can create antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Don’t apply antibiotic cream on a new tattoo or piercing right away. Instead, wait until there is at least some sign of infection before you use anything.

Parts of the Body You Should not Put Ointment On

Swallowing an antibiotic ointment can be harmful, so don’t use them internally. Some creams are designed for use on your eyes, so they are not inherently detrimental to your eyes. Study the label packaging carefully and talk to your doctor. Putting ointments on or near your genitals may not be a good idea. Talk to your doctor first.

Antibiotic Cream vs. Petroleum Jelly for Wound Care

Petroleum jelly can be as effective as a topical antibiotic if your wound is not already infected. However, if the injury is going to heal quickly, you don’t need to apply anything. Even options like peroxide should not be used for wounds if your cut is going to heal in a few days.

Types of Injuries You Should not Treat With Antibiotic Cream

Some injuries are too mild or too severe for an ointment. If the wound is severe, over-the-counter ointments are not good enough. On the other hand, if the injury is minor and there is no infection, you do not need and should not use an antibiotic.

Ointment Overdose

While there is no such a thing as an “ointment overdose,” you can still overuse them. When people use antibiotics unnecessarily, it creates antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are contagious and can spread through the population pretty quickly. Therefore, they do not only cause potential harm to the person who overused the antibiotic but to others.

Sometimes, improperly using an ointment can cause rather than treat a bacterial infection. This is because your skin naturally has some bacteria, some parasites, and some yeast, even if it is healthy. If you kill the regular bacteria/parasites/yeast, you may make your skin more vulnerable to harmful bacteria. However, your normal bacterial skin is healthy and should not be harmed.

What to Do When You Miss a Dose

You should always finish all of the antibiotics your doctor recommends. In addition, you should not stop taking an antibiotic or using an ointment as soon as your symptoms disappear. Stopping early is dangerous – you might end up with an antibiotic-resistant infection if you do. However, you don’t have to be worried if you only forget to use the ointment one day. Missing a single dose of an antibiotic usually isn’t bad enough to cause any problems.

How to Store Ointments

You should keep any ointment in its original container. However, if you have small children, keep it out of their reach. Also, store the ointment away from sources of moisture.

When to Call a Doctor

Sometimes, home care with ointments is not enough. You may need a doctor to deal with a severe infection. If your problem keeps getting worse despite the ointment, call a doctor. You also must call a doctor if you experience a severe allergic reaction or some other adverse reaction to an ointment. Call a professional healthcare provider if you experience any of the following:

  • Chest tightness
  • Rashes
  • Fainting
  • Dizziness
  • Low blood pressure
  • Diarrhea
  • Hearing loss

Frequently Asked Questions

Neosporin is an antibiotic cream that contains three different antibiotics. It is an excellent medication if it is used properly. However, overuse and unnecessary use of antibiotics make bacteria resistant to them. ​Neosporin is not obviously better or worse than other popular antibiotic creams. If one ointment causes side effects, you might not have side effects with a different one. 

When you apply antibiotics to a cut, results can be mixed, and it isn’t always a good idea. Sometimes, it can slow wound healing. Antibiotics save lives, but sometimes letting a wound heal naturally is the best way. 

Some ointments might work for some staph infections. However, staph infections are not easy to treat. Sometimes, a doctor has to prescribe an unusual, specific antibiotic to treat it. 

Putting triple ointment on a new tattoo is a bad idea. Antibiotics, including topicals, should not be overused. Don’t use ointment unless it is necessary. 

You should not use ointment unless there is some sign of infection. Your piercing might never get infected. Don’t use it preemptively. 

Yes, putting your antibiotic cream in the fridge is usually okay. It is even a good idea to do this. The cold and dark can prevent your cream from spoiling. However, you should not let your antibiotic cream get too cold, especially not freeze. If it gets too cold, the ingredients will separate, which will ruin your ointment. So instead, consider the temperature of your fridge. 

Doctors do not always use antibiotics to treat wounds. However, suppose the injury worsens over time or develops an infection or a severe problem such as necrotizing fasciitis. In that case, doctors will use antibiotics, often injected into the patient. Ordinary cuts and scrapes do not always require antibiotics. Sometimes, vaseline is enough to treat a minor wound. Even surgical incisions are often treated with vaseline by doctors. However, many doctors also prefer ointment to vaseline because it can be more effective. There is no exact answer to what is suitable for incisions. If you have had surgery, use what your doctor recommends. 

Yes, ointments (topical antibiotics) can work to get rid of acne. Since acne is caused by bacteria, antibiotics can treat it. Ointments can also reduce inflammation, which can reduce acne. ​

​Yes, you can put ointment on an infected ear to cure an ear infection. However, you may need to consult a professional healthcare provider first because your ear is a sensitive area. Also, topicals work better than oral antibiotics for your ears. 

Polysporin, Neosporin, and bacitracin are all excellent ointments. Unfortunately, some people are allergic to some of the ingredients. In this case, you can usually switch to an ointment you are not allergic to.

Many different ointments can work for skin infections if you use them correctly. Some of the best are:

  • Neosporin
  • Family Wellness Dual-Action Cream
  • Globe Triple Antibiotic First Aid Ointment
  • Bacitracin
  • Polysporin

The content on Doctor Alexa’s blog is reviewed by Advanced practice registered nurses or pharmacist and is intended for educational purposes only. This information should not be relied upon as professional medical counsel. Be sure to always consult with your physician about the dangers and benefits of any medication, treatment or procedure.

You shouldn’t wait to see the doctor for simple health needs.