Some cryogenic wart removers—which remove warts from the skin by freezing them off—have caught fire during use at home, harming consumers or setting fire to items around the house.

Since 2009, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)—which regulates wart removers as medical devices—has received 14 such reports about over-the-counter (OTC) wart remover products, which are a mixture of liquid dimethyl ether and propane.

Ten patients have described singed hair, blisters, burns or skin redness, according to FDA nurse consultant Karen Nast, RN. Nearby items have also caught fire.

“The labeling for these products clearly states that they are flammable and should be kept away from fire, flame, heat sources, and cigarettes,” Nast notes. In three of the reports, there was a candle nearby, but in the other 11 reports no ignition source was identified. “This is extremely concerning, especially because people may not be aware that everyday household items like curling irons and straight irons can be hot enough to be an ignition source for these products,” Nast says.

How to Use These Products

Warts are growths caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. Most treatments using a mixture of liquid dimethyl ether and propane instruct users to follow certain steps.

First, the user presses on the nozzle of a small, pressurized canister (dispenser) containing the mixture. The dispenser releases the mixture, cooled to approximately -40 degrees Celsius, onto an applicator, saturating it. (In some products, the applicator is attached to the cap.) The user presses the applicator on the wart for the amount of time specified in the product directions. An average of three to four treatments is required for warts on thin skin. Warts on calloused skin, such as plantar warts on the soles of the feet, might take more treatments.

In the reports FDA has received, the dispenser generally caught fire when it was releasing the mixture.

Alternative Treatments

Warts can often disappear on their own without treatment in most people, says FDA dermatologist Markham Luke, MD. However, if you are not sure if your warts are cause for concern or if you have questions about using cryogenic products at home, it’s best to be on the safe side and talk with your health care professional before taking action, Luke says.

Your health care professional may prefer to remove the warts in the medical office, using treatments such as surgical paring, laser, or liquid nitrogen cryosurgical treatments. “The advantage is that the health care professional has been trained in providing the treatment safely and under controlled conditions,” he adds.

Alternatively, there are other types of OTC warts treatments available for use at home, such as topical applications of salicylic acid, which soften or loosen warts so they fall off or can be easily removed.

If you are going to use a cryogenic product at home, Luke recommends that you use it only as directed on the labeling, and that you heed warnings such as this one from a currently marketed product: “Extremely flammable. Do not pierce, burn or expose aerosol spray dispenser to excessive heat, even after use or when the dispenser is empty. This may cause dispenser to explode, causing serious injury.” Also be sure to use the product in a well-ventilated area, Luke says.

Nast says that while the FDA has received only 14 reports of fires related to cryogenic treatments to date, such occurrences are often under-reported. She encourages consumers to inform the FDA about similar experiences. “It’s important for us to know when and how problems like this happen,” she says.

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Head Lice

March 11, 2015

Head lice. Every parent’s nightmare.

A year-round problem, the number of cases seems to peak when the kids go back to school in the fall and again in January, says Patricia Brown, M.D., a dermatologist at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

An estimated 6 to 12 million cases of head lice infestation occur each year in the United States in children 3 to 11 years of age, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Head lice are most common among preschool children attending child care, elementary school children, and household members of children who have lice.

Contrary to myth, head lice are not caused by poor hygiene, Brown says. They are spread mainly by direct head-to-head contact with a person who already has head lice. You cannot get head lice from your pets; lice feed only on humans.

Lice don’t fly or jump; they move by crawling. But because children play so closely together and often in large groups, lice can easily travel from child to child, especially when they touch heads during playing or talking.

Blood-Sucking Bugs

Head lice are blood-sucking insects about the size of a sesame seed and tan to grayish-white in color. They attach themselves to the skin on the head and lay eggs (nits) in the hair.

According to Brown, you can check for head lice or nits by parting the hair in several spots. You can use a magnifying glass and a bright light to help spot them. Because head lice can move fast it may be easier to spot the nits. Nits can look like dandruff, but you can identify them by picking up a strand of hair close to the scalp and pulling your fingernail across the area where you suspect a nit. Dandruff will come off easily, but nits will stay firmly attached to the hair, Brown explains.

FDA-approved treatments for head lice include both over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription drugs, such as Nix and Rid, in the form of shampoos, creams and lotions. “Many head lice products are not for use in children under the age of 2, so read the label carefully before using a product to make sure it is safe to use on your child,” Brown says.

Although OTC drugs are available for treatment of head lice, Brown says your health care professional may prescribe drugs recently approved by the FDA, such as Ulesfia (approved in 2009), Natroba (approved in 2011) or Sklice (approved in 2012).

Steps for Safe Use

Follow these steps to use any head lice treatment safely and appropriately:

  • After rinsing the product from the hair and scalp, use a fine-toothed comb or special “nit comb” to remove dead lice and nits.
  • Apply the product only to the scalp and the hair attached to the scalp—not to other body hair.
  • Before treating young children, talk with the child’s doctor or your pharmacist for recommended treatments based on a child’s age and weight.
  • Use medication exactly as directed on the label and never more often than directed unless advised by your health care professional.
  • Use treatments on children only under the direct supervision of an adult.

Heading Off Head Lice

  • Teach children to avoid head-to-head contact during play and other activities at home, school, and elsewhere (sports activities, playgrounds, slumber parties, and camps).
  • Teach children not to share clothing and supplies, such as hats, scarves, helmets, sports uniforms, towels, combs, brushes, bandanas, hair ties, and headphones.
  • Disinfest combs and brushes used by a person with head lice by soaking them in hot water (at least 130°F) for 5–10 minutes.
  • Do not lie on beds, couches, pillows, carpets, or stuffed animals that have recently been in contact with a person with head lice.
  • Clean items that have been in contact with the head of a person with lice in the 48 hours before treatment. Machine wash and dry clothing, bed linens, and other items using hot water (130°F) and a high heat drying cycle. Clothing and items that are not washable can be dry-cleaned or sealed in a plastic bag and stored for two weeks.
  • Vacuum the floor and furniture, particularly where the person with lice sat or lay. Head lice survive less than one or two days if they fall off the scalp and cannot feed.
  • Do not use insecticide sprays or fogs; they are not necessary to control head lice and can be toxic if inhaled or absorbed through the skin.
  • After finishing treatment with lice medication, check everyone in your family for lice after one week. If live lice are found, contact your health care professional.