Warts are unpleasant and contagious growths on the skin that can cause discomfort and embarrassment, as well as having some significant medical risks. Though usually small and not in themselves painful, depending on where they arise on the body they may cause some irritation at joints.
They are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) and they can arise on any area of the body. Though not usually harmful or in any way malignant, they can nonetheless sometimes require treatment and attention, especially if they bleed. In such cases, the situation can be problematic and require more significant medical intervention.
Part of the reason to attend to warts promptly is because they easily spread to other parts of your body. So though they are generally harmless, early diagnosis and treatment are key to preventing further complications and to limiting the contagion to other parts of your body.
Types of warts
Because warts are caused by viruses – the group of viruses known as HPV, as mentioned above – they are not all the same. The type of wart you have can depend on which virus has caused it.
Broadly speaking, there are five main types of wart.
Common warts are, as their name implies, the most frequent warts we might catch. They are usually found on your hands and fingers, where they appear as raised bumps with a rough texture that can look gnarled and brownish. They are not at all attractive and in some cases they can be extremely noticeable as raised protuberances on the skin.
Plantar warts are invariably located on the feet, where they can make walking and sports painful, depending on where on the feet they are. Plantar warts are usually hard and flat, with black dots in the center. They can be more difficult to spot, largely because we do not inspect our feet as much as we do our hands and face.
Flat warts are usually smaller than other types and can be slightly difficult to recognise even as warts. They usually appear as small, smooth bumps on the skin and they tend to be confined to the face, neck or hands.
Filiform warts look like small threads and often occur around the mouth, nose, or chin. These can be tricky to get rid of, as they are often in small cluster lines.
Genital warts are certainly one of the most contagious forms of wart and they are not at all to be ignored, partly because they are so highly contagious and can cause harm to other people. They are usually noticeable in or around the genitals or the anus, so they can also be sometimes rather difficult to spot. It means you need to perform regular self-checks, especially if you are sexually active and do not use protection.
Causes of warts
The specific causes of wart-transmission can vary depending on the kind of wart, but in most cases the wart is transmitted virally through the human papillomavirus (HPV). The specific way in which the virus is spread, however, is invariably through close contact, either person to person or by touching surfaces or things that are carrying the virus, such as towels, kitchen surfaces, cutlery, etc.
In the case of genital warts the most likely source of transmission is intimate contact, and that particular form of wart does not normally pass without close person to person intimacy. If you have warts on the face near the lips, such as filiform warts, then kissing or hugging may transmit them, even with quite light contact. Handshakes are sometimes also enough to transfer common warts, so if you have warty hands, be aware of this, as you may end up passing on the HPV to someone else.
How to Treat Warts
There are a number of effective home remedies for warts. Some are more efficacious than others but, nonetheless, some of these will surprise you. Garlic, apple cider vinegar, tea tree oil, and banana peels are all natural ingredients that can claim to have some positive impact on warts. Though not all of these treatments come with scientific authority, there are significant numbers of people who lay claim to having had their warts reduced or made to disappear by the application of these ingredients in various forms.
There is a wide number of OTC remedies available for warts, so you are unlikely not to find one that works for you. The most well known is salicylic acid, which helps dissolve the top layer of skin that contains the wart. Be aware that it can sting and that the application of it takes careful attention.
There are also freezing sprays, such as brands like Compound W, which will freeze the wart and then cause it to fall off. These, too, can require close attention to avoid damaging surrounding skin. In addition, many people find they prefer to apply creams and ointments that contain acids or antiviral ingredients. There are many on the market and your pharmacist will have advice as to which is best for your particular warts. Be aware, however, that not all these treatments are suitable for genital warts, which can require particular attention.
There are plenty of prescription medicines available also. These are usually intended for common or plantar warts in particular. As above, genital warts can need separate treatment from those outlined here. Common prescription treatments include creams; topical retinoid creams; topical bleomycin, and the rather intimidatingly titled podophyllin resin. Be aware of these creams and treatments when you are discussing how best to treat your warts with your doctor.
If home remedies and OTC or prescription medicines do not work, there are options available for the professional removal of your wart.
These professional treatments typically involve a medical professional using a selection of methods to remove the wart. Some of these are relatively simple, while others are more invasive and complicated. The methods can include laser therapy; cryotherapy – which is a form of freezing the wart off; chemical peels; or surgery. You must consult carefully with the medical profession here, as the treatment will vary depending on the position or severity of the wart. It may also take more than one application or treatment to fully eradicate it.
It is also wise to note that there is not always a guarantee that the warts will not return. There are few treatments that can guarantee a permanent removal. That said, many of them will keep the warts away for a good period of time and it may well be the case that the wart never does return, so these are treatments to be looked at with a degree of optimism, as they are generally highly effective.
Be aware, though, that they can be expensive and in some cases slightly painful at the point of treatment, so you need to look at these treatments carefully before going down this road.
Apple cider vinegar
The potency of apple cider vinegar as a treatment for warts is increasingly widely known. The vinegar works because apple cider vinegar acts as an antiseptic, which means it can fight off the virus that causes the wart and with its acid content it is able to help start the processes of the wart breaking down and being slowly worn away, by damaging the wart tissue. Though it may sting a little, it is a safe treatment that can be applied with a tissue or cotton swab a few times a day. It may not be the only treatment you need, but it is likely to be a suitable complement to others. As always, test it out first before determining if it is going to suit.
Tea tree oil
Another naturally antiseptic and antiinflammatory ingredient, tea tree oil is a natural wonder. The active ingredient in tea tree oil is an antiseptic called terpinen-4, and it works to slow down the virus responsible for warts and to stop it from spreading.
While there are admittedly only limited studies on the efficacy of tea tree oil, this is a sensible approach to take to tackling warts when they first arise, as whatever the ability to break down the actual wart, the antiseptic qualities of the oil will have beneficial effects on the skin and will help to keep the surrounding area clean.
Garlic is another food that can be surprisingly beneficial to the skin when applied in a paste. It is a well known treatment for some skin complaints and scar treatments, as it is a natural antiinflammatory and antiviral foodstuff. Applied to the wart by being mixed in a paste with a small amount of oil or yogurt, it may help reduce any inflammation and calm down the potency of the wart.
Duct tape occlusion
This is a treatment that some people recommend for a number of skin issues, including warts.
The idea behind it is that you cover the wart up with a piece of duct tape for a period of time and therefore keep oxygen from the wart, which some suggest will kill off the virus and the wart. Having said that, this is not a treatment that will help the surrounding skin, as the skin needs access to air and to breathe, so there is a risk that you end up softening and weakening any surrounding healthy skin too. It is also the case that the timeline for this approach can be very difficult to determine. That said, for some people it is a simple and easy way to tackle a wart outbreak.
Salicylic acid is a common treatment for warts. Salicylic acid is an exfoliant, which means it works to gently remove the top layer of skin cells, which can help reduce the appearance of warts and also allow other treatments to penetrate deeper. It is widely available as an OTC treatment, whether in liquid form, or as a topical cream or gel.
It is widely recognized to be extremely effective. Many studies have shown that salicylic acid can be highly effective in reducing both the size of a wart and the irritability caused by warts. If you have verrucas on your feet, salicylic acid is also useful for treating them too.
Compound W is a type of wart remover that can help to get rid of warts quickly and effectively. Widely available, it is an acid-based ointment, typically containing salicylic acid (discussed above), that helps to break down the layers of skin that contain the wart. By breaking these layers of skin, Compound W does what salicylic acid tends to do, which is to get to the root of the wart, break down its support system, kill the virus, and ensure the wart dies off.
There’s a few well known prescription treatment for warts. One in-particular is a prescription cream that fights the HP virus and that will, with regular application, break down the wart’s support systems and ensure that it is eradicated from your skin. If you use it as you should, you will likely see a change to the warts quite quickly, and with common or plantar warts in particular you will notice an improvement in a few days. You may wish to ask your Doctor about such a cream.
Ciclopirox topical cream
As we saw, warts are caused by human papillomavirus, and this makes ciclopirox an important way of tackling warts, as it is an antifungal medication. Using ciclopirox is simple, as you merely need to clean and dry the affected and surrounding area and then apply a thin layer of the cream and allow it time to work. Most medical advice suggests that you should use ciclopirox twice daily for up to twelve weeks. That said, many warts will not take twelve weeks to disappear or show marked improvements. Initially, you may, as with many wart treatments experience a degree of stinging, burning or itching, but these symptoms usually pass within a few days.
Wart Cream Option #2
Using a special cream is another effective way of tackling your warts. If the cream contains anti-metabolites, which are a type of medication that stops cells around and in the wart from producing certain proteins. Because these proteins are essential for the growth and replication of warts, by blocking them the cream is able to stop the wart from growing and eventually get rid of it. It is a simple approach, easy to apply, and it has a high chance of being extremely effective.
Cryotherapy has been used for many years to treat warts and skin tags. Though it sounds complex, it is actually a very simple approach to take and is usually a very straightforward treatment. Cryotherapy involves freezing the wart with liquid nitrogen. This causes the tissue around the wart to freeze as well, which both helps to stop the virus from spreading and also means that the wart itself will diminish and die off, or fall off, after a few days.
It is usually reckoned to be 90% or so effective in treating warts, so it is certainly an approach to consider. That said, it can leave the skin beneath the wart permanently lighter, and occasionally you may find a small degree of blistering. It is also the case that after the treatment as the wart dies, it may enlarge in size and blacken quite notably, which can be unsightly to look at and potentially socially embarrassing.
Laser surgery is an excellent way of treating warts and skin tags. It has been used for many years and has a high success rate. It works by focusing light energy – lasers – on the wart and in doing so seeks to destroy the wart very precisely. The heat from the laser is able to destroy the wart without causing undue damage to surrounding skin, as can occasionally happen with other treatments that are looser or more difficult to apply so precisely.
As with cryotherapy, laser surgery or treatment has a high efficacy rate and has been shown to be effective in around 90% of cases. In addition, there is a very low chance of lasers leaving any scarring. Be aware, however, that it may not be cheap, depending on your health system or situation.
This is an increasingly popular treatment for warts and is a procedure that uses an electric current to destroy the wart and any associated affected areas of the skin. The nature of the treatment can flex and vary in line with the wart and the current can either be high frequency or low frequency current, depending on the type of wart being treated, its longevity or size, and where it is on the body. It is usually effective and it has the additional positive benefits of being able to be performed quickly and without pain. After the procedure, in most cases the wart should have been removed completely, or at least reduced until it is no longer visible.
Be aware, however, of some risks. There remains a risk of scarring of the skin where the wart was, and in some rare cases there may be nerve damage. As ever, be sure to talk to a medical professional, dermatologist, or your doctor before going down any treatment such as this.
Keep skin clean and dry
Warts and the HPV tend to prefer moist areas. This is not an absolute, and you will still often find warts on areas of the body that are not wet or sweat-prone, but it remains the case that keeping the skin clean and dry limits the chances of warts developing. By doing so, you significantly lower the chances of warts developing in the first place, and you also ensure that if you have a wart its life is made harder by being on clean dry skin than on skin that is bacterially dirtier, or more moist or sweaty.
Keep it simple, and wash frequently with soap and water, particularly if you’ve been sweating or have been in an environment where the air is heavier and where there is more pollution or dirt. Use talcum powder to assist in keeping skin dry, especially on the feet or genital areas.
Cover up existing warts
For many people, part of the distress of warts is their visibility to others. They can be socially awkward and professionally difficult, even when it comes to something as simple as a handshake. If you are feeling self-conscious, cosmetic camouflage creams can help disguise warts and will not impact negatively on your treatments of them. A colorless nail-polish can also be an effective topical approach, as it can coat warts to make them look more like your natural skin.
Though more obvious, don’t forget to have sticking plasters to hand if you have warts, as these can cover them up while also helping to limit the oxygen that is reaching the wart, which can weaken it over time.
Avoid touching or picking at warts
This is really important advice. Because warts are contagious, you seriously risk spreading the virus by picking at it. It is highly likely that if you try to touch it excessively or intrusively you will limit the effectiveness of any treatments and set back the wart’s death. There is also a notable risk that you will cause the virus and fungus to spread across the area concerned and that in opening up the wart you make yourself even more susceptible to infection, whether with further HPV outbreaks or other viruses altogether.
Remember, tampering with your warts almost certainly prolongs their life, so leave them alone and only engage with them when applying any treatments.
Wash hands frequently
Hand-washing is essential for so many areas of our health, but it is certainly wise when it comes to limiting the occurrence of warts on our bodies, hands and face. If you use an antibacterial handwash, it eradicates the virus that causes warts, at least for a while, and therefore limits the chance of either catching or spreading any existing virus to other parts of your body. It makes it less likely, too, that you will catch the virus from other people, as the hands are in a cleaner state and more regularly cleansed.
Avoid sharing personal items
It is obvious, but still worth stating, that sharing items with others who have warts increases your chances of contracting HPV and suffering from warts yourself.
An essential tip is not to share personal items, such as towels or razors, especially if the person concerned has a wart. Given the high transmissibility of warts, it means you need to take care to avoid others’ personal items if they have warts. Even seemingly innocuous things like a laptop keyboard or mobile phone may put you at risk if the person concerned has warty hands. It is also right that if you know you have warts that are exposed and that are touching others’ gear, you either let them know, or you simply avoid doing so altogether. If you are suffering from genital warts, you really need to let your partner or potential partner know, so that they can make an informed decision about intimacy.
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