Do You Need a Prescription for Collagenase?

Key Takeaways:

  • Collagenase is a prescription medication used for wound care and debriding dead tissue.
  • A doctor’s prescription is required to obtain collagenase ointment or cream.
  • Collagenase helps remove dead tissue from wounds so healing can begin.
  • Proper wound assessment and diagnosis should be done before using collagenase.
  • Collagenase ointment has been used for over 50 years to treat various wound types.

What is collagenase and why is a prescription required to get it?

Collagenase is a topical medication prescribed for wound care. It contains enzymes that break down collagen, a protein found in connective tissue. This allows collagenase to debride, or remove, dead tissue from wounds so healing can begin.

Collagenase ointment and cream require a doctor’s prescription and cannot be obtained over-the-counter. This is because collagenase is a powerful medication that can damage healthy tissue if used incorrectly. Proper wound assessment, diagnosis, and supervision are needed to ensure safe and effective use of collagenase.

What are some brands of prescription collagenase ointments?

Some common brand name collagenase ointments include:

  • Santyl – This is the most well-known brand of collagenase. Santyl ointment has been used to treat wounds for over 50 years.
  • Accuzyme – Another FDA approved collagenase enzyme ointment.
  • Collagenase SANTYL – This is a generic version of the brand name Santyl ointment.
  • Xiaflex – A purified collagenase used to treat Dupuytren’s contracture and Peyronie’s disease.

Only your doctor can prescribe the right collagenase product for your particular wound. OTC hydrogels, hydrocolloids, alginates, and other debriders cannot substitute for prescription collagenase.

When is collagenase ointment used?

Collagenase ointment is used for debriding a variety of acute and chronic wounds, including:

  • Pressure injuries/ulcers – Collagenase effectively removes necrotic tissue from pressure ulcers so healing can progress.
  • Diabetic foot ulcers – These wounds often have thick calluses and dead tissue impeding healing. Collagenase can debride and prepare the wound bed.
  • Venous leg ulcers – Collagenase can debride chronic wounds on the lower legs caused by poor circulation.
  • First- and second-degree burns – Collagenase can help debride eschar and necrotic tissue from burn injuries.
  • Surgical wounds – Collagenase is used post-surgery to clean dehisced, infected, or necrotic incisions.
  • Grafts and flaps – Collagenase can debride damaged skin graft and flaps.

Collagenase should only be used on the right types of wounds and for the appropriate duration under medical guidance.

Why does dead tissue need to be removed from wounds?

Devitalized, necrotic tissue must be removed from wounds for proper and timely healing to occur. Here’s why debridement is important:

  • Prevents infection – Necrotic tissue is prone to developing bacterial infection. Debriding it removes this infection risk.
  • Removes biofilm barriers – Biofilms that protect bacteria can form on dead tissue and impair healing.
  • Stimulates healing – Removing necrotic tissue allows the wound bed to revascularize and fill with healthy granulation tissue.
  • Improves efficacy of treatments – With the barrier of dead tissue gone, other wound treatments like growth factors and skin substitutes work better.
  • Reduces inflammation – Devitalized tissue causes inflammation which delays wound closure. Debridement removes this inflammatory stimulus.
  • Exposes wound margins – Removal of eschar/slough reveals the true wound margins and allows better assessment.

Regular debridement is a key part of proper wound management for optimal healing outcomes.

How does collagenase work to debride wounds?

Collagenase ointment contains purified collagenase enzymes that break down collagen, the main structural protein in skin and connective tissue. Here’s the debriding mechanism of action:

  • Digestion of denatured collagen – Collagenase specifically digests damaged, denatured collagen found in necrotic tissue.
  • Liquefies eschar and slough – This digestion liquefies dry, hardened eschar and loosens thick slough.
  • Facilitates mechanical debridement – Loosened necrotic tissue can then be easily removed.
  • Spares healthy tissue – Collagenase does not break down the native, undenatured collagen in healthy tissue. This avoids damage to newly forming granulation tissue.
  • Can reach wound pockets – The ointment can penetrate into deeper tunnels and pockets of necrosis.

Daily application allows collagenase to slowly but effectively debride devitalized tissue with minimal trauma to the healing wound bed.

What is the proper procedure for using collagenase ointment?

Collagenase ointment is typically applied once daily, but the frequency can vary per the healthcare provider’s instructions. Here are some usage guidelines:

  • Cleanse and irrigate the wound initially to remove loose debris and drainage.
  • Apply a thin layer of collagenase ointment just enough to cover the entire wound surface and about half an inch of surrounding skin.
  • Use caution not to overfill deep wounds, as the ointment may liquefy eschar and cause drainage. Wick excess ointment away as needed.
  • Cover with an appropriate secondary dressing like a foam or an alginate.
  • Change dressings daily when reapplying the ointment. Monitor for excess drainage.
  • Observe the wound after 3-5 days of application for visible debriding action.
  • Continue daily applications until all necrotic tissue is removed and healthy granulation tissue is visible.
  • Do not use longer than 14 days unless prescribed by your doctor.

Proper usage technique ensures collagenase can effectively debride without harming newly formed tissues. Close monitoring allows determining when debridement is complete.

What precautions should be taken when using collagenase ointment?

Collagenase ointment is quite safe when used properly under medical supervision. However, precautions should be taken to avoid adverse effects:

  • Allergies – Those with cow protein or collagenase allergies should avoid use due to potential hypersensitivity reactions.
  • Bleeding wounds – Collagenase can disrupt unhealthy granulation tissue and cause bleeding in high-risk individuals. Monitor for hemorrhage.
  • Pain – Discontinue use if the ointment causes significant pain reaction at the application site.
  • Infected wounds – Collagenase alone cannot remove bacterial biofilm or reduce wound bioburden. Combine with antimicrobial intervention.
  • Sinus tracts – Do not insert collagenase ointment into sinus tracts, fistulas, or tunnels smaller than 1 cm in diameter.
  • Hypergranulation – Collagenase should not be used to treat hypergranulation as it can digest healthy tissue. Other options are better.

Close monitoring and integrating collagenase into a comprehensive wound treatment regimen reduces risks and maximizes its debriding efficacy.

What options are available if collagenase cannot be used?

For patients who cannot use collagenase, alternative debriding options include:

  • Autolytic debridement – Letting the wound self-digest necrotic tissue through natural body processes. Slow but effective for stable wounds.
  • Enzymatic debriders – Other topical enzymes like papain-urea and streptodornase break down dead tissues.
  • Wet-to-dry dressings – Gauze soaked in saline can mechanically debride when removed. Highly painful.
  • Maggot therapy – Live, disinfected maggots secrete enzymes that dissolve necrotic debris.
  • Hydrosurgery – Devices like Versajet thin slough using pressurized saline.
  • Low-frequency ultrasound – Portable devices use sound waves to liquefy thick eschar.
  • Surgical debridement – Sharp excision of necrotic tissue done quickly under anesthesia.

The optimal debridement method depends on the wound, patient factors, clinician skill, and available resources. Consult your provider on suitable options if collagenase cannot be used.


In summary, collagenase ointment like Santyl is an efficacious topical enzymatic debriding agent proven through over 50 years of clinical use. However, it is only available by prescription after proper wound examination and diagnosis by a licensed healthcare provider. When used correctly under medical guidance, collagenase can selectively debride necrotic tissue without damaging healthy granulation and epithelial tissue. This facilitates wound healing by removing dead tissue burden, infection risk, and inflammatory stimuli. Close monitoring and integrating collagenase debridement into a comprehensive wound management regimen maximizes its benefit. For patients unable to use collagenase, various alternative debridement modalities are available


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