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An external analgesic is a medication for pain management designed to be applied externally, rather than being taken internally. External analgesics are applied to skin that has not been broken and can be used in a variety of ways. Some are available over the counter from drugstores and pharmacies. Others are provided by prescription only and may be used in a hospital setting or prescribed for patients with unique pain management needs for use at home.
This type of analgesic works by numbing signals sent from nerves in the vicinity of the area where the medication is applied. Depending on the product, the area numbed can vary, and the length the medication remains effective is also variable. Topical pain relief can be applied in situations where people experience aches and pains from arthritis and similar health problems. It can also be used in minor medical procedures so the patient will not experience pain during the procedure.
Local anesthetics work slightly differently, and are designed to be injected into the area, rather than being applied topically. They are intended for internal use, tend to last longer, and must be administered by an experienced care provider. An external analgesic is easy to apply and is mild enough to come with minimal risks and side effects. People sometimes find these medications helpful for managing pain near the surface of the body or for addressing pain directly at the source.
These medications are available in the form of gels, creams, and sprays. After application, it can take a few seconds or minutes for the medication to take effect. Periodic reapplications can be used to maintain the numbing as patients start to experience breakthrough pain. The area can be left exposed after application, or covered with clothing or a bandage, depending on the location and the needs of the patient. Some patients with pain find contact with the site unpleasant, even with an external analgesic, and may prefer to leave the area uncovered.
Patients should be advised that when they use an external analgesic, the pain signals normally sent out when the skin is cut, burned, or otherwise damaged will not occur. There is a risk of severe injury as the patient may not realize that an ongoing injury is occurring. Nerves also adjust to analgesics over time and the intensity and frequency of the dosing may need to be increased as a result.