Polysporin Ointment

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Polysporin: Safer than Neosporin

Jun 25, 2000 (Updated Jun 25, 2000)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Does not contain neomycin

Cons:Slightly more expensive than other ointments

Due to poor circulation, my grandmother (94 years young) suffers from leg ulcers. These are open wounds, usually around the ankle, that are extremely slow to heal, especially for diabetics and the elderly. Polysporin was recommended by her dermatologist to dress these ulcers and protect against infection. It’s an over-the-counter anti-bacterial ointment manufactured by Glaxo Wellcome and retails for between $5 - $7 for a 1 oz. tube, just slightly more expensive than its over-the-counter cousin, Neosporin.

Because Polysporin wasn’t a prescription drug and there would be no hassles with insurance paperwork, the granddaughter (me) was sent out to the drug store to pick up a tube of Polysporin, a box of Telfa non-stick pads, and some non-adhesive Coban gauze -- thus beginning an education on perhaps more than I ever wanted to know about wound care and anti-bacterial ointments.

Like Neosporin, Polysporin contains Polymyxin B Sulphate, which, according to DrugBase (www.drugbase.co.za), “attacks gram-negative bacilli including clinically-isolated strains of Pseudomonas aeruginosa.” Zinc Bacitracin, its other main ingredient, attacks gram-positive bacilli and cocci, so in both products you've got a nice, expansive anti-bacterial range.

Unlike Neosporin, however, Polysporin does not contain Neomycin, which can cause some temporary symptoms of a neuromuscular condition called Myasthenia Gravis (MG). These symptoms, brought on by Neomycin’s direct neuromuscular block, can include limb, neck, trunk and respiratory weakness; droopy eyelids; and difficulty swallowing. Again, these side effects are only temporary, lasting a few hours to a few days. But while Neosporin poses a risk for triggering this adverse reaction, Polysporin does not.

Now, as it happens, my grandmother has extremely sensitive skin (thus, the need for non-stick Telfa pads and non-adhesive Coban gauze) and she’s highly allergic to another anti-bacterial agent, sulfa (a synthetic). Initially, she was concerned that the sulphate in Polysporin might cause a skin reaction, but her fears were unfounded. Sulfa and sulphate (a salt) are not related compounds. So far, my grandmother has had no negative reactions to Polysporin and with the aid of support hose, her ulcers have diminished markedly over the last few months.

Several weeks ago, however, the dermatologist noticed another small lesion on her leg. A biopsy revealed it to be a non-invasive form of skin cancer. He keeps this wound “scraped” and insists my grandmother keep a permanent dressing on it, using either Polysporin or plain Bacitracin. As long as it’s properly cared for, this skin cancer shouldn’t cause her any further problems. We’re all amazed at her continued good health and longevity – in 94 years this is her first “bout” with cancer. And other than the leg ulcers, she has no serious health problems. Isn’t that marvelous?

The only drawback to using Polysporin is my grandmother’s constant need for it. Over time, obviously, anti-bacterials can lose their effectiveness and have been blamed for the proliferation of bacterial super strains. This problem has become serious enough for recommendations against the use of anti-bacterial soaps and household disinfectants, though I haven’t heard any reports on the recommended disuse of these ointments. For my young son’s daily (sometimes hourly) wounds, I prefer to let them heal without help. But for my 94-year-old grandmother, I suppose I’m just thankful that compounds like Polysporin exist and that they improve her quality of life. I think it's important, though, that younger individuals, who heal more easily, not abuse the anti-bacterial properties of this product.


Recommend this product? Yes

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