Wart Treatment Options

May 28, 2019

By Trevor Shewfelt, Pharmacist at the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy

Biohacking. Apparently, I was biohacking. Jack Dorsey, the billionaire cofounder of Twitter, does intermittent fasting for 22 hours a day. That means he does all his eating in just 2 hours a day. Veteran NHL'er Duncan Keith has tried a hydrogen inhalers, infrared light, electromagnetism and glutathione. These weird, kinda sciency self improvement techniques are called biohacking. I was thinking about this when we ran out of cimetidine. Cimetidine is an old treatment for stomach acid. We don't use it much anymore, because we have better stomach acid medications available. But, I remember 30-ish years ago when my family doc gave me cimetidine to me to get rid of warts on my hands. It didn't work for me. Back in the present, when cimetidine went on back order, I found out one of the people we were giving it to was using it for warts. I remembered back to when I used cimetidine for my warts. Then I remembered my biohack. Even though my biohack got rid of my warts, you definitely shouldn't try it at home.

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, and the aforementioned stomach medication cimetidine. 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 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 wart 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 salicylic acid. They can harm the skin around the wart if not used as instructed. To use the salicylic acid products first 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. Then soak the wart in warm water for 2-5 minutes. Dry off the wart and the area around it. Then apply the salicylic 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 rub, soak, 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. Also, don't share your wart emery board or pumice stone with others.

Freezing products are now available over the counter. Common trade names include Compound W Freeze Off. It is not liquid nitrogen like your doctor uses, but accomplishes the same thing. Think way back to high school chemistry. 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.

When I was in Pharmacy school, I went to a dermatologist to look at my warts. She said she could give me a substance that would give me an allergic reaction on my skin. If we applied that to the warts, it would convince immune cells to attack the warts and the HPV virus couldn't hide anymore. But the dermatologist didn't want to make me allergic to a new substance. She asked if I was allergic to poison ivy. I said I was. She asked if I was in pharmacy school and had access to a lab. I said I did. She told me to get poison ivy, make an extract and put it on my warts. I did and it worked! But looking back this plan was more than a little reckless. It could have easily given myself a full body poison ivy rash. Or, I could have left poison ivy residue in the lab to give anyone else who came in a wonderfully itchy rash. If I ever get a wart again, I should do something safer like bury a penny in the garden or starve myself for 22 hours a day.

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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