How did yellow oxide of mercury salve—fine old panacea for all the ills of the eye and adjacent anatomic structures, known to every physician, surgeon, specialist, nurse, optician, housewife and grandmother—obtain its undisputed place in the pharmacopeia and in the hearts of our ailing countrymen? Introduced into ophthalmology for one specific and minor purpose, how did it become a universal cure-all? Long ago abandoned by most experts, why does it tower above the one other preparation embalmed in the memories of generations of medical students and share its place only with a bastard silver agglomeration as "something good for the eyes?"
Library and laboratory research, contemplation and questionnaires fail to reveal the answers to these questions, but the phenomenon is worthy of consideration and the history of the salve is interesting.
An account of Pagenstecher's ointment first appeared in English ophthalmologic literature in the second volume of the Ophthalmic Review
HOSFORD GN, McKENNEY JP. OINTMENT OF YELLOW MERCURIC OXIDE (PAGENSTECHER'S OINTMENT): ITS USE AND ABUSE. JAMA. 1933;100(1):17–19. doi:10.1001/jama.1933.02740010019004
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