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Understanding Warts, Wart Removal, Diagnosis and Treatment

Before you can choose a method of wart removal, you need to understand what a wart is and identify the type of wart you might have. A wart occurs when a tiny portion of the skin grows at a faster than normal rate. These benign growths are usually caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) and can be contagious. Warts can be recognized by their rough surface, although they are usually skin colored. They often disappear on their own; however, it could take months, or even years, for warts to fall off. These growths can occur anywhere on the body, including the face, hands, feet and genitals. Be careful never to treat facial and genital warts with home remedies.

Types of warts

The most commonly seen warts include:

Common warts: These have a rough surface with well defined borders. They are usually between 2 and 10 millimeters in width and are either round or irregular in shape. Firm to the touch, these warts can be light gray, gray-black, brown or yellow in color and usually appear on the back of the hand or near fingernails. You can also find them on knees and elbows. Common warts are not painful.

Plantar warts: These warts can be painful. They usually appear at the soles of the feet and can make it difficult for a person to walk. Sometimes mistaken to be corns, plantar warts are at times dotted with small, clotted blood vessels, which cause the growth to have dark spots. The pressure applied on the feet while walking or standing usually leads these warts to become flattened.

Genital warts: These warts appear either on or near the genitals of both men and women. They have at times also been seen inside the vagina or on the cervix.

Over-the-Counter Wart Removal Options

Most over-the-counter wart removal preparations are made of salicylic acid and are sold in the form of gels, drops, plasters and pads. Such preparations can be used for any type of wart, including plantar wart removal. Salicylic acid helps to dissolve the keratin that forms the basis of the warts, as well as the thick dead skin later on top. Recent advances in technology have also made available over-the-counter aerosol sprays that help in wart removal by freezing them to a temperature of -70oF (-57oC). Most dermatologists, on the other hand, use liquid nitrogen, which freezes the warts to -320oF (-192oC).

When to Visit the Doctor for Wart Removal

If you are not sure whether the growth is a wart, it is best to consult a medical practitioner to rule out the presence of cancerous growth. This is especially important for people over the age of 60. If you suspect the existence of genital warts, get a medical examination done before you begin any kind of treatment. A wart on any part of an infant's body should be shown to a doctor. Here is a list of circumstances that warrant medical attention for wart removal:

  • If a wart becomes swollen, red or painful to the touch
  • If there is any type of discharge from the wart
  • If there is bleeding (this could be indicative of a more serious condition)
  • If walking or standing becomes difficult due to plantar warts

What Happens at a Doctor's Visit for Wart Removal

The first thing a doctor will do is to determine whether the growth is a wart. Once the existence of warts has been determined, the doctor will prescribe the required treatment. The removal of warts on infants can be tricky and should be done with care, since it can cause discomfort or even pain. The doctor will also determine whether the wart needs immediate removal or whether you should follow a wait-and-watch approach. Difficult warts could require repeated visits to the doctor for wart removal treatment. Here are some common wart removal methods used by doctors:

  • Cryotherapy - This method kills both the warts and the HPV by freezing them. Liquid nitrogen is most commonly used as a freezing agent. This could sting a bit and there are times when doctors consider using a local anesthetic. A bandage could be used to protect the area till the wart falls off, which usually takes about 15-20 minutes. The treatment could lead to a blister, which takes a couple of days to subside.
  • Cantharidin - This is a naturally occurring toxic chemical. It is diluted for the purposes of wart removal. The doctor usually paints the warts with Cantharidin and then uses a bandage to protect the area. This bandage is required to be worn for 24 hours. The procedure is not only painless, it also does not lead to scarring.
  • Laser Surgery - This type of wart removal is usually preferred for genital wart and plantar wart removal. A more expensive procedure, laser surgery could lead to the patient experiencing pain for several days following treatment. There could also be a slight risk of infection. However, this is one of the most effective treatments for stubborn warts and leads to minor or no scarring. In laser treatment, an intense light beam is focused on the wart, which helps to burn it away. The two most common types of laser surgeries are pulsed dye laser and carbon dioxide laser.
  • Electrosurgery and Curettage - In electrosurgery, high frequency electric current is used to burn away the warts. This procedure takes about 30 minutes. Curettage means that the doctor uses a surgeon's knife to cut away the warts.

FAQ

How contagious are warts? How can I stop them spreading to others?

Warts tend to be contagious and children are the most vulnerable to get infected. Warts can spread through direct or indirect contact with a person infected with HPV.

Who can get warts?

Warts are most common among children and young adults. However, millions of people all over the world and of all ages, both men and women, get warts each year.

How can I prevent warts from occurring?

The only way to avoid getting warts is to be careful not to come in contact with someone who already has HPV. You could also minimize the development of warts by maintaining good hygiene and treating cuts and scrapes effectively.