Have you ever used antibiotic ointments for a cut or a wound and it actually looks worse the next day? A contact allergy may be the cause. Neomycin, a key ingredient in triple antibiotic ointments available over-the-counter, has gained notoriety as “allergen of the year” in 2010 because of its effects as an allergen to those with sensitive skin.
What is it?
Neomycin is an antibiotic that works by interfering with bacteria’s ability to make proteins required to grow, hence its effectiveness in topical products that aim to prevent and even treat bacterial infections.
Why is this a problem?
The goal of using an antibiotic cream is primarily to prevent an infection to open skin. Patients often reach for the first-aid kit immediately after a cut, and quickly dab the first available ointment and Band-Aid without second thought. The days following, the wound never seems to heal and then appear dry, red, swollen and sometimes even blistered. The healing process is now delayed by an allergic reaction that patients often mistake for infection! To make matters worse, anaphylaxis, the most severe form of allergic reaction that can result in facial swelling, dangerously low blood pressure, and death, can occur.
Where is neomycin found?
Neomycin is listed under the name “neomycin sulfate” or “neomycin B sulfate”. The most common products that contain neomycin include several topical medications for skin, ear, and eye infections. Double or triple antibiotic ointments, creams, and lotions commonly include neomycin as a combination therapy. Often, neomycin can be found in pet foods as a way to administer antibiotic therapy to animals.
As with many chemical compounds, the similarity of neomycin to other compounds can lead to cross-sensitivity. This means that other chemicals that “look like” neomycin can make your skin react the same way. The most common ones are from the same class, including: gentamycin, streptomycin, tobramycin.
What should you do?
Remember to look at ingredients in products prior to use. Avoid neomycin and similar antibiotics listed above. For non-infected wounds, using TrueLipids® Double Action Boo-Boo & Bum Balm or plain white petrolatum can help the wounds heal without causing an allergic reaction. If your wound appear to worsen, seek medical assistance from your health care provider.