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Dermatitis. 2008 Jul-Aug;19(4):181-9.

Postoperative topical antimicrobial use.

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Department of Dermatology and the Division of Dermatologic Surgery, The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, TX, USA.


Allergic contact dermatitis associated with topical antimicrobial agents is an increasing problem in the postoperative wound care period. We reviewed the topical antimicrobial agents most commonly used postoperatively in North America and Europe, examined the incidence of allergic contact dermatitis from each agent, and provided guidelines for the use of topical antimicrobials on closed and open wounds in the postoperative period. Neomycin was the most common cause of allergic contact dermatitis both in the general patch-tested population (11%) and in the postsurgical population. Bacitracin was also a common culprit, although at a lower rate (8%). There is a risk of co-reactivity between these two agents. Polymyxin B and mupirocin were not significant allergens. The rate of postoperative infectious complications in dermatologic surgery (1-2%) was similar to the rate of allergic contact dermatitis from topical antimicrobials (1.6-2.3%). We concluded that for closed wounds, the use of topical neomycin postoperatively should be avoided. White petrolatum is an efficacious and cost-effective alternative for closed wounds. For open wounds, topical antimicrobials that do not contain neomycin should be recommended.

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