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Dr. Frank Bures: You can’t smother a wart

Dr. Frank Bures: You can’t smother a wart


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You can’t kill a wart by smothering it to stop it from getting oxygen from the air. The simple biological reason is that the wart growing in your skin gets its needed oxygen from the blood circulating through the skin normally. It doesn’t extract it from the external “ethers.”

Why even bother to bring this up? Because someone brought it up again, applying nail polish on her foot wart to “nail” it. She hated the painful wart, as so many souls do when they have problematic warts on their soles. I have heard this several times over the years.

Warts are caused by infection of epidermal cells by wart viruses, which are not complete cells. They live inside the host’s cells and use the cells’ equipment, as all viruses do in all animals and plants. (Yes, plants have viral infections, too.)

The Latin word for sole is planta. So, anything related to that area is called plantar, especially plantar warts. It is not Planter’s, and has nothing to do with a peanut-shaped guy with a top hat. Plantar warts are NOT a special breed of wart but mushroom out in a special “in the way” place. A wart found elsewhere is never a plantar wart.

The problematic point is that the plantar lump these warts often provoke, in turn, provokes a limp from the lump. There are about 15 doctor treatments possible, all equally effective 65 percent to 75 percent of the time. Treatment of any wart can be a challenge.

Smothering the wart is not one of the 15 options. The rather primordially simplified view of cutting of the outside air supply sort of harkens back to the ancient times when the universe was thought to be composed of the four elements: earth, fire, air and water (and the world was still flat).

However, actually covering warts with tape has been studied since 1978, when Dr Jerome Litt did it on kids (who are smarter than us adults, and won’t let people hurt them) to avoid pain. His results were in the same range as all other attack modes, and also (more recently) duct tape. What is going on beneath the tape to make the wart rot and crumble off isn’t certain. But, it can work but not by cutting off oxygen.

Things biologic are always more complicated than they seem at face (or foot) value.

The myriad questions about warts, such as the reason for their presence, why they infect some folks and not others, why they are on one foot and not the other, where they live off our skin, or how best to kill them without leaving worse lumps as scars, go wanting — perhaps prompting another column or two. No matter how embittered you are

for the pain they may impart, you can’t get your fingers around their little viral DNA throats and choke the snot out of them. Sorry.

Here’s another point to consider. With all the groups that have formed to prevent cruelty to all sorts of critters, is there somewhere out on the Internet, a society for the prevention of cruelty to warts, complete with legal staff to prosecute such abuse?  I would not want to find out by being the first to be reported to the wart authorities.

Frank Buresis a Winona dermatologist.


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