What is Antibiotic Cream?

A tube of antibiotic cream.
Antibiotic creams are typically used on minor wounds.
Blisters on the hand may be indicative of a bacterial skin infection, which may be treated with antibiotic cream.
Topical antibiotic creams are used to treat or prevent bacterial infection.
Article Details
  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 26 August 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Antibiotic cream is a topical ointment that contains antibiotics which are designed to kill organisms which cause infection. Many drug stores sell these creams as an over the counter product, and they are a common inclusion in first aid kits. It is also possible to receive prescriptions for antibiotic creams from a doctor, for patients dealing with a stubborn or unusual infection.

One of the most common uses of antibiotic cream is in keeping wounds from becoming infected. Classically, a wound is flushed with water, and often an application of hydrogen peroxide or another sterilizing agent, and then the cream is lightly smeared across the wound so that infectious bacteria cannot move in. The wound may also be covered with a dressing to help keep it clean.

The use of antibiotic cream alone will not prevent infection. If a wound is not kept clean, dirt and other materials could penetrate it, bringing bacteria into the recesses of the wound and causing an unpleasant infection. Regular washing and inspection of a wound for signs of infection is a critical part of care.

These types of creams can be used in the treatment of cuts and scrapes, along with more serious injuries, like burns and deep cuts. Severe wounds should be examined and cleaned by a doctor, as sometimes debris can enter the depths of a wound, where it may fester and cause infection. Once a doctor has cleaned and examined a wound, however, antibiotic cream may be used for home wound care.

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Topical antibiotics are also used to treat specific infections of the skin caused by bacteria. Staphylococcus bacteria, for example, is quite fond of invading the skin if it senses a weak spot, causing conditions like impetigo, and antibiotic cream can be used to clear the infection out. In addition to using the cream though, the patient must also generally be careful to avoid skin to skin contact with others, because he or she will be infectious until the bacteria have been killed off.

There are some precautions which should be observed when using antibiotic cream in the prevention or treatment of infection. Widespread use of antibiotics has led to a number of antibiotic-resistant organisms, which makes antibiotics less effective, forcing drug companies to develop new products to counter the rapidly adapting members of the bacterial world. Using antibiotic cream on every single cut and scrape can contribute to antibiotic resistance, as can failure to use a cream as directed by a doctor.

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Discuss this Article

Charlie89
Post 3

Is there a best over the counter antibiotic cream?

It seems like there are about a billion in my local pharmacy, and I didn't know if there was really that much of a difference between them, and if so, which one I should choose.

zenmaster
Post 2

@musicshaman -- Well, it's kind of like tylenol -- almost anyone can use it.

However, there are cases where people have reacted badly to antibiotic creams, but this is usually a one-off, and manifests as itching, redness, or skin irritation.

Antibiotic cream does have some interactions with drugs too, but most of the time it is perfectly safe.

The only potentially serious situation is using antibiotic cream while pregnant, since studies have shown that this can pose a risk to the fetus.

However, that being said, many people still use antibiotic creams during pregnancy with no effect.

So basically, while antibiotic creams do have rare, occasional side effects or interactions, for the most part, it is very safe to use.

musicshaman
Post 1

Is using a topical antibiotic cream ever categorically unsafe? I know I shouldn't use it all the time, but I didn't know if it was ever dangerous for anyone to use, or if it was kind of a universally beneficial drug.

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