A common dermatological problem that is estimated to affect many millions of individuals, warts are caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). The virus has numerous subtypes that can cause a variety of warts including common warts and plantar warts. Potentially contagious, warts may spread from one body part to another since even when the wart is destroyed, the virus is not. Though many warts resolve on their own, some people are plagued by the annoying skin clusters throughout their lives. Although there is no cure for the virus, there are methods available to remove or destroy wart tissue.
Should I Have My Warts Treated?
Often, warts will disappear without treatment, particularly in children, and most are completely harmless. Unfortunately, warts tend to appear on highly visible parts of the body, such as the hands, and many patients want to get rid of them for cosmetic reasons. If your warts hurt, do not resolve on their own or if you cannot destroy them using over-the-counter medications, you may want to schedule an appointment with your dermatologist.
How Are Warts Removed?
Most methods of removing warts are destructive in nature, involving application of liquid nitrogen, acids or blistering agents designed to remove wart tissue. Depending on the severity of the case, persistent removal efforts performed every few weeks may be required to completely destroy a wart. On average, warts on the hands and feet may require five to seven treatments. Your doctor may want to take a skin biopsy, particularly if the skin growth bleeds, is large, irregular or is darker than the skin surrounding it, to determine if the growth is cancerous.
Use of the blistering agent cantharidin causes a minimum of discomfort, making it favored for use on younger children who cannot tolerate the more painful methods of removal. A dermatologist “paints” the wart using cantharidin, after which a blister forms under the tissue. After about a week, you will have a follow-up appointment to clip away the dead wart.
Anyone, including young children, is a candidate for wart removal using cantharidin.
“Freezing” and “Burning”
The most common treatment for wart removal is cryotherapy or “freezing” of the wart. Minimally painful, the procedure often requires repeat treatments. Another method is “burning” off the wart, also known as electrosurgery. Curettage involves scraping off the wart using a sharp knife or spoon-shaped tool. Sometimes electrosurgery and curettage are used in tandem, with the wart scraped off before or after surgery.
Although most patients with warts can benefit from these treatments, cryotherapy may leave behind brown spots on people with dark skin.
In some cases, warts are particularly difficult to destroy or extremely numerous. Following are some treatments dermatologists use to attack these stubborn cases. Patients with unusually numerous warts, flat warts or warts that have not responded to other therapies may be candidates for more extreme treatments.
Warts that have not responded to other procedures may respond to laser treatment. The dermatologist numbs the wart with an anesthetic injection before removing it with a medical laser.
Flat warts, because they tend to come in clusters, may be be treated with a peeling type of medication. Prescription peeling agents may be applied at home and include salicylic acid, tretinoin and glycolic acid.
Individuals who cannot tolerate the pain of destructive methods or who have a high number of warts may be prescribed oral Tagamet or Cimetidine. These medications are normally used to treat stomach problems, but dermatologists have had some success treating multiple warts with Tagamet, particularly in children.