Whether you’re an exceptionally active person or just trying to play it safe, it is always a good idea to keep a first aid kit at home, especially if you have children. You can make your own by assembling a handful of useful everyday medical items easily obtainable from the local grocery store or drugstore. Get a nice, sturdy plastic container with an interlocking lid, and put in some gauze, band-aids, alcohol swabs (or a small bottle of rubbing alcohol), tissues, and a disinfectant for cleaning cuts. One thing that is commonly found in first aid kits is an antibiotic cream for applying to cuts, scrapes, sores and minor burns. However, when shopping for your supplies, it is easy to become confused which of these antibiotic ointments is best.
The two most commonly found antibiotic ointments are Neosporin and Polysporin. They are similar, but not exactly the same, and not entirely interchangeable, because they have different ingredients.
The active ingredients included in Neosporin are Polymyxin B Sulfate, Bacitracin Zinc, and Neomycin. These three ingredients are why Neosporin is also referred to as “triple antibiotic ointment”. After cleaning the wound and its surrounding area, Neosporin is applied topically to superficial wounds and small open sores to prevent them from being contaminated by the germs on whatever it was that caused the injury (such as scissors, sharp edges, or splinters). This will help the injury heal faster, by inhibiting the growth of bacteria in and around the skin. This is a powerful and useful thing to keep in a first aid kit, however, some people are very sensitive to the antibiotic Neomycin. If you have a sensitivity to Neomycin, you should not use “triple antibiotic ointment”, because it can cause an allergic reaction or make the wound much worse. Instead, it is more appropriate to use Polysporin.
Polysporin is a powerful antibiotic ointment as well. Commonly called “double antibiotic ointment”, Polysporin is formulated with the active ingredients Polymyxin B Sulfate and Bacitracin Zinc. It doesn’t contain Neomycin, making it appropriate for use with people who have sensitivities to certain antibiotics. Polysporin can be used for scrapes, cuts, minor burns, and other superficial skin injuries in the same manner as Neosporin but without the risk of allergic reaction. Both of these antibiotic ointments are very useful for healing small skin injuries. They work by using antibiotics to kill bacteria. This reduces the risk of infection, speeds up the healing process, and helps reduce scarring. Many of these ointments are formulated with added Vitamin E or other ingredients to soothe the skin so it does not become irritated or sore while it is healing.
Use of These Products
Now that you know the difference between Neosporin and Polysporin, it is important to recognize when it is appropriate to use them, and how to use them properly. First, consider how severe the injury is. If you have a deep cut or a serious burn, you need to see a physician. A superficial cut, a scratch from a rough edge, or a scraped knee, can be treated at home. This is an appropriate time to apply antibioitic ointment. After cleaning the skin gently with soap and water, you can additionally use an antiseptic spray or rinse, and then apply the ointment. A little bit goes a long way, so there’s no need to slather it on, just put a little bit over the surface of the cut. Or, if the cut is bleeding a little bit, you might want to put a bit of the antibiotic ointment onto a band-aid, and then place it over the injury. This is good for papercuts, scraped knees or elbows, or a minor surface burn.
It is also important to keep in mind that while these topical lotions contain antibiotics, they will not stop an infection if it has already started. If a cut is very deep or will not stop bleeding, you should seek medical assistance right away, because you may require stitches. Likewise, if it is not bleeding but the skin around it is discolored, inflamed or painful, it might already be infected, and it is a good idea to have a doctor look at it to rule out a more serious infection or give you additional treatments, such as oral antibiotics, to help it heal. If you apply topical antibiotic lotion to an infected cut, it may heal over the surface, but the infection will still remain below the skin. That is very dangerous and can cause further health problems that could potentially be very serious, like cellulitis or other deeper infections, which cannot be treated at home and require the expertise of a physician.
When performing first aid at home, make sure that you identify the type of injury, its severity, and the proper treatment for it. After cleaning the wound and applying the antibiotic ointment of your choosing, keep an eye on the area to watch for signs of possible infection. Signs of infection include pain, redness (inflammation), tenderness, skin feeling warm to the touch, and skin discoloration. Even if the injury is small, it could still become contaminated with bacteria and germs. If you suspect an infection, play it safe and call a doctor, because it is better not to take chances when it comes to your health. If you have children, explain to them the importance of keeping injuries clean and how to watch for signs of infection, and tell them to see the school nurse if they do not feel well when you are not around.
Now that you know the difference between Neosporin and Polysporin, you can make a more informed decision when choosing an antibiotic ointment for your home first aid kit. This will help keep you and your family safe, and provide immediate relief for superficial skin injuries and wounds like scratches, cuts and light burns.