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Wart Removal Techniques

by Brad McHargue
  • Overview

    Warts are harmless growths on the skin caused by a virus. They are generally painless, and serve to be nothing more than an embarrassment. Benign warts are typically found on the hands and feet, and are characterized by a raised area of the skin with a rough surface, similar to that of a cauliflower. While warts often go away on their own, many prefer to expedite the process using a variety of techniques, including surgery, medication and alternative methods.
  • Types of Warts

    Three types of benign warts occur on the hands and feet, and one type appears on the face: common warts, flat warts, plantar warts and subungual/periungual warts. Common warts are generally relegated to the hands, though they can crop up anywhere. Flat warts typically appear on the face or forehead and are more common in children while rare in adults. Plantar warts are warts that appear on the feet and unlike other warts can become quite painful due to their location. Subungual and periungual warts are found around and sometimes under the fingernails and toenails. A fifth type of warts, genital warts, are caused by the herpes simplex virus type two and require a special form of treatment. Unlike benign warts, they require medical care and as such do not adhere to the same types of treatment found in other warts.
  • Surgical Techniques

    A variety of surgical techniques exist to remove warts in way that is much faster than medication or over-the-counter treatment. These methods are typically utilized only when the wart is stubborn and isn't responding to other methods of treatment, though any type of benign wart can be removed through surgery if expediency is important. One of the most common methods is cryosurgery. Liquid nitrogen at a temperature of negative 20 degrees Celsius is applied to the wart, causing the infected tissue to freeze and ultimately die. An older method includes carbon dioxide snow, which was fairly common about 20 years ago. Over-the-counter cryosurgery products such as Wartner exist, using dimethyl ether and propane to freeze the wart. The process might sting and be accompanied with redness and swelling. This can be treated by the immediate application of a topical steroid and by taking over-the-counter pain medication. Electrocauterization is the opposite of cryosurgery, involving electricity to burn the wart off. Typically used to remove dead, unwanted or potentially dangerous tissue, it is often used to stop bleeding by sealing the blood vessels. Electrocauterization is performed by attaching a probe to the wart and sending an electric current through it. Because large amounts of electricity can be dangerous, the safety of the patient is assured through the use of a grounding pad.
  • Medication

    The most commonly used medication-based technique for wart removal is salicyclic acid, which is freely available over the counter in a variety of forms. After treatment for approximately two to three weeks, the wart can easily be peeled off. Salicyclic acid can damage healthy skin, so one must be careful when applying the medication. In addition, salicyclic acid is also available by prescription in a dose stronger than the over-the-counter standard of 17 percent. As aesthetics is one of the main reasons for treating wart, most salicyclic acid treatments come in medicated pads. By using this, you're guaranteeing complete coverage of the wart with medication, as well as providing a way to conceal the wart. Should the wart prove to be stubborn and surgery not an option, cantharidin may be used. Extracted from the blister beetle and often combined with other chemicals, it is applied directly to the wart and covered. This causes a blister to form, raising the wart off the skin and allowing the doctor to remove it. The drug bleomycin is sometimes used to treat warts as well. Injected directed into the wart, it kills the virus. This technique is rarely used to treat warts, but may be effective in large doses in treating some cancers. Other drugs include retinoids, which work by hindering cell growth, and immunotherapy, which works by using the body's own immune system to combat the wart. Interferon, however, is typically only used to treat severe warts or warts that have not responded to any other treatments.
  • Duct Tape Technique

    One of the most popular methods of treating warts isn't a medication at all: it's duct tape. Although a popular 2002 study found in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine suggested duct tape therapy to be a more effective method of treating warts, the efficacy of the treatment is still up for debate. Given its affordability and the lack of pain associated with the treatment, there is no harm in attempting the duct tape method to see if it works. The biggest downside to treating a wart with duct tape is the duration in which it must be used. The duct tape is applied to the wart and covered for upwards of two months. Every week or so the wart is soaked in warm water and rubbed with a pumice stone or emery board (nail file). As with all treatments, even if seemingly harmless, a doctor should be consulted before beginning a duct tape regimen.

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