Q: So how do I get rid of these warts?
A: In my post last week, I hopefully reassured you that you don’t have to worry about warts on your hands spreading to more sensitive areas. Now let’s talk about what you can do to get rid of those annoying little suckers!
Cryotherapy: This is the granddaddy of wart treatments. We soak a cotton swab in liquid nitrogen and apply it to the wart to freeze it and the surrounding skin. You can get an over-the-counter kit to do this yourself but they’re kind of expensive and we can usually do a better job for you. About 75% of warts clear with liquid nitrogen therapy, but it often takes at least a couple of treatments spaced a few weeks apart to get the job done. It stings a little but the freezing kind of numbs the area so it isn’t too bad; most people get some redness and irritation for a few days afterwards, but it’s pretty mild.
Salicylic acid: There are a lot of over-the-counter (OTC) salicylic acid preparations available out there – Compound W is probably the most recognizable brand name. The Student Health Pharmacy also has a plaster (MediPlast) that is a lot stronger and more effective for tougher warts and those in areas with thicker skin, like plantar warts. They are available without a prescription and cost less than 2 bucks each. They’re about the size of an index card – you cut off a piece big enough to cover the wart, peel the paper off the back, stick it onto the wart and leave it on for 24-48 hours. You can cover the plaster with a piece of tape to hold it in place if necessary. You peel it off and then scrub away the dead skin and repeat the process until you get to the bottom of the wart. It may take a few weeks, but is also about 70-80% effective at cure.
Squaric acid: The new kid on the block for wart treatment at SHS is squaric acid. It is a 0.2% liquid compound that you apply directly to the wart once a week for 6-8 weeks, leaving it on for 24 hours at a time. How it works isn’t exactly known, but it sensitizes the skin and stimulates the immune system to attack the wart. There isn’t a lot of research into how effective it is compared to other treatment options, but in my limited experience with it, it has been effective when other treatments failed. It requires a prescription and is also inexpensive.
Duct tape: People have been using good old fashioned duct tape to treat warts for a long time. Medical researchers have actually looked into this and some studies found it to be effective while others didn’t. The best I can tell you is if you’re going to try it, use the silver form of the tape since the rubber-based adhesive sticks to the skin better (unless, of course, you’re allergic to latex). The studies that showed benefit had people leaving the tape on for 6 straight days, then removing it, soaking the wart and scrubbing away the dead skin. The process was repeated until it was gone. You can apply a 17% OTC salicylic acid to the wart before covering it with the duct tape but if you do, remove the tape and check the wart every 24 hours since this increases the chance of having a more severe reaction.
There are a few other options out there which we can discuss with you, but those are the biggies. If you’re having trouble with warts, or any other skin problems, come in to see us at Student Health – we’re happy to check it out!
duct tape photo: daddytypes.com
mediplast photo: concentric.net
John A. Vaughn, MD
Student Health Services
The Ohio State University