By Trevor Shewfelt, Pharmacist at the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy
Fillet of a fenny snake, in the cauldron boil and bake; eye of newt, and toe of frog, wool of bat, and tongue of dog, adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting, lizard’s leg, and howlet’s wing,– for a charm of powerful trouble, like a hell-broth boil and bubble. The three weird sisters from Shakespeare’s MacBeth are some of my favorite witches. Apparently, I should just call it Shakespeare’s Scottish play as legend has it there are so many witches and spells in MacBeth, that even when I utter the name of the play I will be cursed.
Witches, make me think of warts and potions. I’ve had warts on my hands and feet come and go over the years. Fortunately, at the moment, I’m wart free. But I’ve tried many, many different wart potions in my time. Compound W, home freezing products, a stomach medication called cimetidine, and even a concoction made of poison ivy. Don’t try the poison ivy one. I don’t want to be responsible for you turning into a huge itchy rash. Remedies I’ve heard of but never tried include covering the wart with duct tape for a day and removing the duct tape and rubbing a penny on the wart and burying the penny in the garden. So what are warts and why are they so hard to get rid of?
Warts are caused by a viral infection in the top layer of the skin. The virus is called the human papillomavirus (HPV) and there are more than 100 different types of human papillomavirus (HPV). Children and young adults are the most commonly affected age group. Handlers of meat, poultry and fish also have a high incidence of warts. It has been estimated that up to 25% of the population will have a wart at some time. Warts are usually spread from direct skin-to-skin contact with an infected person. It can also be spread by contact with surfaces like communal showers and swimming pool decks. It can take 2 to 6 months from time of infection until the wart appears. Although there is limited proof, some experts think it could take up to 3 years between exposure and wart development. Warts are hard to get rid of because the human papillomavirus is really, really good at hiding from your immune system. HPV just convinces the security guards of your immune system that it is really okay for them to be there and to not sound the alarm.
When should you see a doctor and when can you try to treat a w
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art yourself? If you have warts on your face or genitals, or if you have flat warts you should get them checked out by your family doctor. People with diabetes or circulatory problems also should not self treat because these people are more likely to have problems healing wounds in the skin.
Many non-prescription wart products contain salicyclic acid. They can harm the skin around the wart if not used as instructed. To use the salicyclic acid products first soak the wart in warm water for 2-5 minutes. Dry off the wart and the area around it. Then gently remove the top layer of skin from the wart with an emery board, pumice stone or rough wash cloth. If you make the wart bleed, you rubbed too hard, and may actually cause the wart to spread. Apply the salicyclic acid product only to the wart and not to the healthy skin around it. You can protect the healthy skin around the wart with some vaseline if you wish. You will have to repeat this wart removal process everyday, so most people choose to soak, rub, and apply at bedtime. The wart will turn white and soft over time and you will rub off more and more of it until it goes away.
Recently, freezing products became available over the counter. Two common trade names are Wartner and Compound W Freeze Off. It is not liquid nitrogen like your doctor uses, but accomplishes the same thing. Think way back to highschool physics. When a gas expands, it cools. When a gas expands rapidly, it cools rapidly. These over the counter products allow liquids similar to lighter fluid expand into a gas within an applicator. So my first warning is that these products are flammable. My second warning is the applicator gets cold. It can get below -55 C. Follow the instructions in the package carefully. Most importantly, don’t freeze the skin around the wart. It will damage your skin.
Double, double, toil and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble. By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes. I just hope it’s not another wart.
As always if you have any questions or concerns about these or other products, ask your pharmacist.
The information in this article is intended as a helpful guide only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice. If you have any questions about your medications and what is right for you see your doctor, pharmacist or other health care professional.
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