Wart sufferers Seek treatment to prevent pain, spreading

June 30, 2003|by ANDREA ROWLAND

There's more than one way to thwart a wart. You can freeze them and fry them, file them and ignore them. You can even cover them with duct tape.

The handyman's helper might be as effective in getting rid of warts as more uncomfortable treatment options, health experts say.

Warts are noncancerous skin growths caused by various strains of human papillomavirus that enter the skin through tiny breaks. Warts look different depending upon what part of the body they affect, and which strain of the virus is involved. Warts are most common on the hands, feet and face, but they can grow almost anywhere on the body. Warts are infectious, but they are spread most commonly from body part to body part rather than from person to person. Highly contagious and acquired through sexual contact, genital warts - which can increase a woman's risk for cervical cancer - are the exception.


"Warts are a fairly diverse kind of problem," says Hagerstown dermatologist Paul C. Waldman. "Warts are unpredictable."

Warts can affect anyone, he says, but children, older adults and individuals with a weakened immune system are most susceptible to the wart virus.

"I see people of all ages with warts," Waldman says. "It's a common occurrence."

Most warts will go away on their own after the body builds up a resistance to the virus - but this natural process can take years, Waldman says. Those willing to wait, however, will be less likely to get warts again because they will have built up an immunity to the virus.

Sometimes waiting isn't an option.

Warts that are bothersome or painful should be treated. And the immune system must work harder to reject multiple warts, so it's best to seek treatment for warts before they multiply, Waldman says.

"I think that increases the chances of treatment success in a shorter period of time," he says.

Individuals respond differently to human papillomavirus and to wart treatments, which range from freezing the growths (cryotherapy) to zapping them with lasers, the doctor says.

Most over-the-counter wart treatments contain salicylic acid, which destroys the virus-infected skin cells. This treatment method can take up to 12 weeks to work. Physicians can also freeze warts with liquid nitrogen, inject them with an anti-cancer drug called bleomycin, burn warts with an electric current or remove them surgically.

Recent studies have found that injecting warts with substances that boost the immune system also can be effective.

"When to treat warts and how to treat warts are very individualized questions," Waldman says. "I tend to try to individualize my treatment approach."

Covering a wart with a piece of duct tape might also be as effective as more conventional approaches, according to a study detailed in the October 2002 issue of "The Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine."

Researchers studied 51 wart patients ages 3 to 22. Twenty-six patients were treated with duct tape and 25 patients were treated with cryotherapy. Patients in the duct tape group, or their parents, were instructed to cover warts with a piece of duct tape for six days. After six days, the wart was soaked in warm water and filed with an emery board. The process was repeated every week for up to two months - with noteworthy results. About 85 percent of the children were cured.

Cryotherapy patients in the study received a standard application of liquid nitrogen on the wart for 10 seconds every two to three weeks for a maximum of six treatments or until the wart was gone. About 60 percent of the patients had complete resolution of their warts.

Waldman, who first read about duct tape as a potential treatment for warts a quarter-century ago, says the science behind the treatment is unclear. Yet it's safe and easy.

"It's not unreasonable to try it," he says.

How to thwart a wart

The American Osteopathic College of Dermatology suggests salicylic acid as the first treatment for removal of common warts.

  • Soak the wart in warm water for 10 or 15 minutes.

  • Rub away at the white, dead warty skin with a pumice stone.

  • Apply the wart medication with salicylic acid to the wart, getting as little as possible onto the surrounding skin, and allow to dry.

  • Put a piece of tape over the wart big enough to stop the medication from getting rubbed off.

  • Repeat daily until the wart looks exactly like normal skin.

  • If the wart becomes sore or bleeds, skip treatment until the following day.

- Source: American Osteopathic College of Dermatology Web site at

Types of warts

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