Can You Put Neosporin in Your Eye?

Only treat eye infections with ointments or drops made specifically for the eye

Antibiotic ointments for the skin like Neosporin can be toxic to the eye, and should not be used to treat eye wounds or scratches. Neosporin, however, is available as an antibiotic eye ointment as well, which is different from the topical cream for the skin and is often prescribed for eye infections.

Understanding the difference between the topical creams, which can be used on the skin, and those that are safe for the eye will help you choose the right eye-friendly antibiotic topical treatment for your needs.

How to Prevent Eye Infections

Theresa Chiechi / Verywell

What Are Neosporin Ophthalmic Treatments?

Neosporin is a widely used over-the-counter antibiotic ointment for minor cuts, burns, and scrapes on the skin to prevent infection. Formulations of Neosporin that are designed especially for eye use have different names: they are called Polysporin ophthalmic ointment and Polytrim ophthalmic solution. They are commonly prescribed to treat eye infections.

The antimicrobial (bacteria-killing) action of Polysporin ophthalmic ointment is provided by a combination of three antibiotics that stop the growth of bacteria—neomycin, polymyxin B sulfates, and bacitracin zinc. On the other hand, the Polytrim ophthalmic solution (eye drops) is a solution that consists of neomycin, polymyxin B sulfates, and gramicidin.

Both the eye ointment and solution are used for the topical treatment of superficial infections of the eye caused by certain bacteria. Infections can affect the external eye as well as what's called the adnexa of the eye, which comprises the tear glands (lacrimal glands), muscles that control the eyeball and eyelids (extraocular muscles), eyelashes and eyebrows, and the mucous membrane that covers the front of the eye and lines the inside of the eyelid (conjunctiva).

Eye Infections

Eyes can become infected by bacteria, fungi, or viruses. Door handles, shopping carts, chair arms, school desks, and the hands of someone who has an eye infection are all possible sources.

There are ways to reduce your risk of getting an eye infection.

  • Washing your hands: Frequent hand washing with soap and water can stop germs from getting into your eyes and prevent germs from spreading.
  • Not rubbing your eyes: Even if they itch, don't use your hands to rub your eyes. Use a soft washcloth to gently clean your eyes, but don't reuse it or let others use it.
  • Washing your linens and towels if you have an infection: This will help stop the virus from spreading in your household.
  • Cleaning your contact lenses and case properly: Follow your healthcare provider's instructions on proper contact lens care.

Your healthcare provider will decide whether the eye ointment or solution will treat your eye infection most effectively. While general practitioners can prescribe eye ointments and drops, it is best to be cautious and see an eye care professional like an optometrist or ophthalmologist, since some infections can cause more serious eye issues.

Uses

Polysporin and Polytrim ophthalmic treatments are used for several kinds of eye infections, including the following.

  • Bacterial conjunctivitis: Also called pink eye, this infection is caused by bacteria and causes red, sore eyes and a lot of sticky pus. This condition is very contagious.
  • Bacterial keratitis: This infection occurs when the cornea—the clear, dome-shaped window in front of the eye—becomes infected. Usually caused by the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus or Pseudomonas aeruginosa, this infection can develop quickly. If it is not treated, bacterial keratitis can result in vision loss
  • Keratoconjunctivitis: This infection’s name aptly describes its symptoms—when someone has keratitis and conjunctivitis at the same time.
  • Blepharitis: This infection causes inflammation of the eyelids. It is very common, especially with people who have oily skin, dandruff, or rosacea. The eyelids of someone with blepharitis will look swollen or feel sore or like they are burning. It may also produce flakes or oily particles (crusts) at the base of the eyelashes.
  • Blepharoconjunctivitis: This infection is a combination of blepharitis and conjunctivitis. It causes inflammation of the eyelid margin and the surrounding conjunctiva. If blepharitis is not treated in its early stages, the inflammation can progress to affect the nearby conjunctiva, resulting in blepharoconjunctivitis.

Can You Use Neosporin to Treat a Stye?

A stye, also called a hordeolum, is a small, red, painful lump that grows from the base of an eyelash or under the eyelid. Most styes are caused by a bacterial infection. In the early stages of a stye, the eyelid will be red and tender, and the eye may feel sore and scratchy.

There are two kinds of styes.

  • External hordeolum: This type of stye begins at the base of the eyelash and looks like a pimple. Most are caused by an infection in the hair follicle.
  • Internal hordeolum: This type of stye is inside the eyelid, and mainly caused by an infection in an oil-producing gland in the eyelid.

A similar condition, called a chalazion, is a swollen bump on the eyelid that may have first started as an internal stye. While a stye is painful, a chalazion is not usually painful, which is why it may not be noticeable at first. However, if a chalazion grows larger, the eye can become red and swollen, and the growth can press on the eye and cause blurry vision.

Do not squeeze or try to pop a stye or a chalazion, because doing so can spread the infection. Also, do not wear makeup or contact lenses while you have a stye.

Styes can be treated in several ways, including:

  • Warm compresses
  • Surgery to drain the area, which is usually done in a doctor’s office using local anesthesia
  • Ophthalmic antibiotics like Polysporin and Polytrim ophthalmic treatments may be prescribed

How to Apply

How to Apply the Ophthalmic Ointment

Polysporin ophthalmic ointment is prescribed in a 1/8 oz. (3.5 g) tube that has an ophthalmic tip. Generally, the ointment should be applied every three or four hours for seven to 10 days, depending on the severity of the infection. Do not use more or less of it or use it more often than prescribed by your healthcare provider.

The steps to applying eye ointment to the eye:

  1. Wash your hands with soap and water.
  2. Use a mirror so that you can see your eye.
  3. Place the tube as near to your eye as possible without touching your eye.
  4. Gently pull the lower lid of your eye down to form a small pocket.
  5. Place a small amount of the ointment (about a ½-inch strip) into the pocket between your lower lid and your eye. If the healthcare provider prescribes a different amount, use the amount directed by your healthcare provider.
  6. After placing the ointment, gently close your eyes for one to two minutes to allow the ointment to be absorbed.
  7. Gently wipe off any extra ointment from the eyelids and eyelashes with a clean tissue.
  8. Wash your hands again to prevent bacteria from lingering and spreading.

Remember these precautions to avoid eye injury or making the eye ointment or drops non-sterile:

  • Do not touch the tip of the tube against your eye, eyelid, fingers, or any other surface
  • Don’t let anyone else use your ointment because it could spread your infection
  • After putting on the ointment, put the cap back on tightly right away

If you miss a dose, apply the missed dose as soon as you remember it. However, if it is almost time for the next dose, skip the missed dose and continue your regular dosing schedule. Do not apply a double dose to make up for a missed one.

Tips for a Steadier Hand

  • Hold the tube between your thumb and index finger
  • Place the tube as near as possible to your eyelid without touching it
  • Brace the remaining fingers of that hand against your cheek or nose

If the ointment is not used properly, it can become contaminated by bacteria, potentially resulting in serious eye damage and vision loss.

How to Apply the Ophthalmic Solution

Polytrim ophthalmic solution is prescribed in a 10 mL plastic dispenser bottle. Instill one or two drops into the affected eye every four hours for seven to 10 days. Dosage may differ depending on the infection. In severe infections, the dosage may be increased to as much as two drops every hour. Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions for your individual needs. Store the eye drops at 59° to 77°F (15° to 25°C), and protect the bottle from light.

Only use these medications for your eyes. Do not let the ointment or the solution get into your nose or mouth, and do not swallow it.

Side Effects

With either the solution or ointment, call your healthcare provider right away if you experience any of the following symptoms or other unusual problems:

  • Eye pain
  • Irritation, burning, itching, swelling, or redness of the eye or eyelid
  • Worsening eye discharge
  • Red or scaly patches around the eye or eyelid
  • Rash
  • Hives
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Swelling of the face, throat, tongue, lips, eyes, hands, feet, ankles, or lower legs
  • Hoarseness
  • Chest tightness
  • Faintness
  • Dizziness

Eye ointments can cause temporary blurry vision. If you experience this, don’t drive a vehicle, operate machinery, or perform any hazardous activity.

Precautions

If you start to have discharge of pus, inflammation, or pain, it could mean you have developed a bacterial resistance to the ophthalmic ointment or solution. Stop using the eye ointment or drops immediately and consult your healthcare provider.

Some people have experienced bacterial keratitis with the use of topical ophthalmic products, both ointments and eye drops, in multiple-dose containers that have been contaminated. This is most common in patients who already have a corneal disease or a disruption of the tissue in front of the eye (ocular epithelial surface).

If you are prescribed the Polysporin ophthalmic ointment, tell your healthcare provider and pharmacist if you are already taking zinc and any prescription and non-prescription medications, vitamins, nutritional supplements, and herbal products you are taking. Let your healthcare provider know if you have or have ever had hearing problems or kidney disease.

Allergic Cross-Reactions

Allergic cross-reactions may occur, which could prevent the use of any or all of the following antibiotics for the treatment of future infections. For both ointment and eye drops, do not use if you are allergic to any of the listed ingredients, as well as:

  • Amikacin
  • Bacitracin
  • Gentamicin
  • Kanamycin
  • Neomycin
  • Paromomycin
  • Polymyxin
  • Streptomycin
  • Tobramycin

Topical antibiotics, particularly neomycin sulfate, may cause skin sensitization, resulting in possible itching, redness, and swelling of the conjunctiva and eyelid. Another sensitization reaction is a failure to heal. During long-term use of the ophthalmic ointment or solution, it is important to check periodically for these signs of sensitization and to inform your healthcare provider and discontinue use of the product if they appear. Symptoms usually subside quickly after stopping use of the eye ointment or drops.

Antibiotic Resistance

As with other antibiotic preparations, prolonged use of Polysporin ophthalmic ointment may result in overgrowth organisms that are resistant to antibiotics, such as fungi, which can result in a fungal infection.


Sometimes a superinfection occurs, which is when a second infection occurs that is resistant to the treatment being used to fight the first infection. If this happens, your healthcare provider will prescribe other medication.

Tell your healthcare provider if you are planning to become pregnant or are already pregnant. Animal reproduction studies have not been conducted with neomycin sulfate, polymyxin B sulfate, or bacitracin, so it is not known whether Polysporin ophthalmic ointment can cause harm to a fetus. It is not known whether this drug is excreted in human milk. However, because many drugs are excreted in human milk, be cautious and ask your healthcare provider if it is safe to use Polysporin ophthalmic ointment while you are nursing.

Safety and effectiveness in pediatric patients have not been established. As with all medications, it is important to keep all containers out of the sight and reach of children.

A Word From Verywell

Using ointments or eye drops specifically designed to treat eyes is safe and healthy. Your healthcare provider will know which one is best for your individual needs. Remember not to put creams or ointments made for the skin in your eyes. Ophthalmic solutions and ointments were formulated to help your eyes heal and are the best choices for your eye care.

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Article Sources
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