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An antiseptic is a substance that kills or prevents the growth and reproduction of various microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and viruses, on the external surfaces of the body. The objective of antiseptics is to reduce the possibility of sepsis or infection by germs. Antibacterials have the same objective but only act against bacteria. antibiotics perform a similar function, preventing the growth or reproduction of bacteria within the body. disinfectants operate on nonliving objects such as medical instruments.

The widespread introduction of antiseptic surgical methods followed the publishing of the paper Antiseptic Principle of the Practice of Surgery in 1867 by Joseph Lister, inspired by the findings of Louis Pasteur. Some of this work was preceded slightly by that of Dr. George H Tichenor and Ignaz Semmelweis.

Some common antiseptics are:

  • Alcohol: Used to disinfect the skin before injections are given.
  • Quaternary ammonium compounds (such as benzalkonium chloride): Used as a pre-operative skin disinfectant. Antiseptic towels are often impregnated with this chemical.
  • Boric acid: Used in suppositories to treat yeast infections of the vagina, in eyewashes, and as an antiviral to shorten the duration of cold sore attacks. Put into creams for burns. Also common with trace amounts in eye contact solution.
  • Chlorhexidine Gluconate: Used as a skin antiseptic and to treat inflammation of the gums (gingivitis)
  • Hydrogen peroxide: Used as a 6% (20Vols) solution to clean and deodorise wounds and ulcers.
  • Iodine: Usually used in an alcoholic solution or as Lugol's iodine solution to disinfect minor wounds and as a pre- and post-operative antiseptic.
  • Mercurochrome: Not recognized as safe and effective by the U.S. FDA due to concerns about its mercury content.
  • Phenol compounds: Used as a "scrub" for pre-operative hand cleansing. Used in the form of a powder as an antiseptic baby powder, where it is dusted onto the belly button as it heals. Also used in mouthwashes and throat lozenges, where it has a painkilling effect as well as an antiseptic one.
  • Sodium chloride: Used as a general cleanser. Also used as an antiseptic mouthwash.
Last updated: 08-04-2005 17:12:01
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