What causes warts & how to treat them

Dec 30, 2020

By Trevor Shewfelt, Pharmacist at the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy

Did you know there was a specific tool to remove the intestines of a turkey in a slaughterhouse? It probably has an official name, but Doris just called them turkey butt-hole cutters. It was a cylinder with teeth at one end and the other was hooked to a vacuum system that sucked the innards out of the carcass. Before moving to Dauphin, Doris sharpened turkey butt-hole cutters, as well as end mills, reamers, carbide tipped saw blades, chain saw blades and high-speed steel saw blades. Doris always told me the high-speed steel saw blades were not worth the money to straighten and sharpen and when dull, you might as well just buy a new one. Towards the end of Doris's sharpening career, she was being trained on CNC machines that could turn a $10 blank of carbon steel into a $150 tool. Doris's background in professionally sharpening industrial implements came up a couple months ago while talking to our daughter, Emily. Emily's welding course in Saskatoon was going well when it came to the actual welding. But at this point, her class was sent to a shop to learn about tools. Emily described turning many former drill bits into smooth cylinders while attempting to sharpen them. She was very frustrated.

Over the years, I've been frustrated by warts. I've had warts on my hands and feet come and go. 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 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. 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 with 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.

It was fun to see Doris's eye light up as I handed her the phone. Of course, she was happy to talk to her daughter, but she seemed extra excited to talk about drill bit sharpening. Doris described the angles Emily should be aiming for. Emily told Doris that she was told never to sharpen a drill bit with a rat tail file as the taper on the file would screw up the drill bit. Doris told Emily that a drill bit should always be sharpened in a specific jig because it was impossible to get the cutting surface right by hand. While we were walking the dog after talking to Emily, Doris was still excitedly describing different drill bit sharpening techniques to me. I told her, I thought she should teach Emily's class at SaskPolytech. I think Doris would do very well as a guest lecturer. And I get a giggle imagining Emily introducing Doris to her class. "Hi, this is my Mom. She drove up from Dauphin to make sure I was eating okay, doing my laundry properly, getting some exercise and because she thinks our industrial implements sharpening instructor doesn't have a clue what he is talking about."

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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