North Queensland researchers have investigated the effectiveness of topical antibiotics, and want to know more about the adverse effects.

James Cook University looked at whether doctors should prescribe antibiotics to be applied to the skin instead of oral or intravenous forms.

The study, to be published in the August edition of the British Journal of Surgery, went back over a range of existing research and found that more information is needed on allergy risks and the potential for antibiotic resistance.

Topical antibiotics are quite common in the United States, where they were available over the counter, but they are being used in Australia too.

A common application is for surgical wounds, where they reduce the rate of infection by about 40 per cent.

“But we also found there was no information about adverse effects, such as antibiotic resistance or allergy,” lead researcher Professor Clare Heal told reporters.

“So basically our summary was we wanted to discourage the use of topical antibiotics because there wasn't enough information about adverse effects, and we feel this will help to reduce the overuse of antibiotics.”

Topical antibiotics are often used to avoid side effects associated with oral medication, like vomiting, diarrhoea, and nausea.

But they have side effects of their own, including the risk of allergic contact dermatitis.

It is often speculated that topical antibiotics are less likely to cause antibiotic resistance, but Professor Heal says this is not proven in the evidence, and so a cautious approach is recommended.