Warts, what an ugly word. At some point, everyone is plagued by a wart. If you are lucky, your warts will go away without any treatment. This is what often occurs in children. Warts are caused by a virus, a strain of the human papilloma virus. The wart virus is everywhere in the environment, so it is pretty easy to catch one. All it takes is a little break in the skin and the wart virus can get in and take residence. Warts can infect any area of skin, but they tend to stick around on the hands and feet for a couple of reasons. First, the skin is thick and they can dig in the thick dead layer of skin (called the stratum corneum) without triggering the immune system. Second, the immune system is less vigilant in the extremities, so the warts can go less noticed.
So what should you do if you have a wart. First off, there is no easy or quick fix to a wart. All treatments take time and persistence. There are many over-the-counter wart treatments that all generally consist of a variable concentration of salicylic acid (Compound W is a popular one). You put the acid on the wart and over time the acid both destroys the skin the wart is living in and creates an immune response. And don’t forget duct tape – this works by macerating (suffocating the skin) and causing an irritant dermatitis – similar to the way salicylic acid works. All wart treatments work on this principal. In studies, home wart treatments have shown to be just as effective as in-office, you just need to continue treatment until the wart is gone (and this can take months).
At the doctor’s office we can use liquid nitrogen and freeze the wart (a treatment called cryosurgery), but again this usually takes multiple treatments and is usually painful both at the time of treatment and after (because there is a blister). Be careful using the drugstore liquid nitrogen, often it isn’t powerful enough to treat the wart but can cause scars. Other doctor’s office treatments include cantharidin (also called beetle juice), candida antigen and bleomycin.
So next time you get a wart, remember treatment may take time. In adults, it is best to start treatment early because they usually don’t resolve by themselves. For kids, they might go away – so you can watch and wait. To prevent getting a wart, wear your shoes in the locker room, pool and common shower area. In yoga, try to use your own mat and wear socks until you are on your mat.