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Common Causes and Simple Treatments for Warts of All Kinds

Wart Treatment

Story at-a-glance -

  • Over 100 different types of human papillomavirus strains can cause warts, which can infect skin in your mouth, genitals, face, hands, feet, arms and legs.
  • There are multiple ways of treating warts at home or with a dermatologist. However, you should never try to treat genital warts at home. They are difficult to treat and require medical care.
  • Many times warts will go away spontaneously within a year or two. However, research has discovered specific supplements which help your body to get rid of them more quickly.

By Dr. Mercola

Warts are a common growth on the skin, and are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). There are over 100 different types of HPV which infect the skin. Most masses can be located on your genitals, in your mouth, or commonly on your hands and feet.

Some types of HPV are associated with cancerous growths and all are contagious. However, it is not uncommon for just one family member to have them and on just one area of the body, such as the hands.

Warts appear when the HPV virus infects the top layer of the skin, often in an area where the skin has been broken. Common warts are often skin colored and feel rough to the touch, but can have small black dots in the center. Other types of warts may appear flat and smooth, or be large and disfiguring.

5 Risks for Getting Warts

1. Children and teens are at higher risk of having warts, especially common warts, plantar warts, and flat warts. The human papillomavirus is more easily contracted when there is a break in the skin, which might explain why children and teens are at greater risk.1

2. People who bite their nails or pull at hangnails also have a higher risk of contracting warts on their hands and spreading those warts to their mouth or other areas of the skin.2

People who bite their nails often have multiple periungual warts over several different nails. Periungual warts are located in the base of the nailbed. They will often raise the nail, cause abnormal growth of the nail, and be a source of pain, disfigurement, and embarrassment.

3. Men and women who shave their pubic hair are at risk for HPV infection-causing warts.3 French researchers examined individuals who were at a private skin clinic in Nice, France.

They found that 93 percent who had Molluscum contagiosum, a mild sexually transmitted disease, also had removed their pubic hair through waxing, shaving, or clipping. Warts were also found and could easily be spread to the area during sex or from scratching the open and irritated skin, transferring the HPV virus.

4. People with a weakened immune system will contract warts more easily.  The immune system can be weakened by poor nutrition, medications used to suppress the immune system, and prevent rejection after organ transplantation, or by diseases such as HIV and AIDS.

5. People who are sexually active. The greater the number of sexual partners you are engaged with the higher your risk of contracting genital warts. If you have sex with a partner who has a high number of sexual partners, this also increases your overall risk for contracting genital warts from HPV.

What Type of Wart Do I Have?

Although there are well over 100 different types of human papillomavirus, only a few of those cause the warts with which you are probably familiar.

The common wart, also called verruca vulgaris, is flesh-colored with small raised spots on the skin surface. They begin as small flesh colored growths and grow to about quarter inch in diameter. They are rough to the touch and most often appear on the hands, elbows, knees, fingers, and around the nails.

When you look closely you may see small black dots in the wart. These black dots are often referred to as "seeds" but are actually superficial blood vessels which supply the wart with oxygen and nutrients. Because of the dense tissue in the center of the wart, these vessels have clotted and appear black.

Plantar warts, also called verruca plantaris, are common warts that grow on the bottom of the foot. The flat appearance of these warts is related to being pressed by the weight of the individual.

Sufferers complain that the wart feels like small stones are under their feet when walking, causing swelling and tenderness to the foot.

The discomfort will also change the way a person walks, which increases the risk of knee, hip, and back pain. Plantar warts can occur as a single wart, but more frequently in a pattern grouped closely together.

Flat warts, also known as verruca plana, have a flat and smooth surface, unlike the common wart. They are usually smaller, occur in greater numbers, and are often found on the face, legs, and arms.

Genital warts, known as condylomata accuminata, come in a variety of sizes. When they are large they have a cauliflower-like appearance. While other varieties of HPV will grow in dry places such as the elbow or legs, this strain of the virus prefers warm, moist surfaces such as the genitals or rectal area.

Genital warts are classified as a sexually transmitted disease, although they are not always transmitted during sex, since skin-to-skin contact is all you need to spread them.. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the highest incidence of genital warts reported is in the age group between 20 and 24 years.4

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Different Treatments for Different Types of the HPV Virus

Remember, in more than 90 percent of cases, your immune system can clear up an HPV infection within two years on its own, so keeping your immune system strong is important.

Most of the different types of warts have the potential to resolve spontaneously over several years. However, many people are interested in having the warts treated and removed to reduce the potential for infecting themselves in other areas of the body or infecting a family member or friend.

The type of treatment used can vary from home remedies to treatments only available in a physician's office. While there are over-the-counter treatments for common warts, flat warts, and plantar warts, genital warts should always be evaluated and treated by your physician.

One of the most commonly sold over-the-counter remedies for warts is a salicylic acid based compound which removes a few layers of the wart at a time.

This type of treatment is not used on the face because it can cause scarring. These products commonly contain between 17 percent and 40 percent salicylic acid.

The wart should first be thinned by using a pumice stone or nail file across the top until all the white, dead skin is removed. Stop before the wart is bleeding or when you are uncomfortable.

Do not share this pumice stone or nail file with others or use on other parts of your body because you can transmit the wart virus and develop more warts.

You may find that soaking the wart in warm water will help to soften before filing it down. Apply the solution, gel, or pads to the wart and use as directed on the packaging. Try not to get the solution on the healthy skin around the wart. Cover the area with an adhesive bandage, duct tape, or black electrical tape. Repeat this process as directed on the packaging.

Duct Tape Really Can Fix Anything

There is also evidence that using just duct tape is more effective than cryotherapy (cold therapy or freezing) applied in the physician's office. The treatment was tested by applying a piece of duct tape over the wart for six days. The tape was then removed, the wart soaked in warm water and filed. The tape remained off overnight and reapplied the next day for another six days.

This treatment protocol was compared against freezing therapy done in a physician's office with liquid nitrogen applied for 10 seconds every two to three weeks for a maximum of six treatments. The researchers found that the individuals who received the cryotherapy had a 60 percent success rate with complete resolution of the wart.

However, those who used the duct tape enjoyed an 85 percent success rate with complete resolution. This difference is statistically significant and the researchers concluded that duct tape occlusive therapy was more effective than cryotherapy using liquid nitrogen.5

Some Natural Treatment Options

Other at-home remedies are aimed at improving your own immune system, which can fight off the HPV virus and resolve the warts spontaneously. Shiitake mushrooms fall into that category. In a study released from the University of Florida, researchers found that the shiitake mushroom improved the function and number of gamma-delta T cells and reduced inflammatory proteins in the body. The participants in the study ate a four-ounce serving of shiitake mushrooms every day for four weeks.6

In another pilot clinical trial from the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, researchers found that using a supplemental extract from the shiitake mushroom over a three-month period of time had a significantly positive effect on the reduction or removal of HPV. In this study, 10 women who were HPV-positive were given the supplement once daily for up to five months. Fifty percent of them were free of the HPV virus at that point.

The extract used, AHCC (active hexose correlated compound) is readily available in health food stores and has no known side effects. In the next clinical trial the researchers plan to extend the trial period to six months.7

Zinc is another natural compound which can modulate the immune system, especially in persons who are deficient in the mineral. Zinc has a profound effect on the immune system. A deficiency can reduce the capacity of the body to fight infections. Based on this foundation one study found that zinc sulfate, administered at a rate of 10mg per kg of body weight daily, would completely clear HPV in 87 percent of the treatment group as compared to 0 percent clearance in the placebo group.8

Dermatologists also have several options for wart removal. Cantharidin is applied as a blistering agent which the causes a blister to form under the wart. One week later you return to the office to have the physician clip the wart away.

Cryotherapy is a treatment using liquid nitrogen which freezes the wart. Similar treatments using silver nitrate are now available over-the-counter as well. However, the treatment must be applied as directed on the package in order to be effective. Because these freezing treatments can be painful, it may be necessary to have a second person apply the treatment to get the full effect if you aren't able to hold the treatment in place the necessary amount of time.

Electrosurgery and curettage is a treatment using burning for common warts and plantar warts. The dermatologist may scrape the wart before or after burning the area. This treatment burns the skin, so you'll need to protect and treat the area afterward as directed by your physician to prevent any infections and reduce scarring. The dermatologist may recommend bleomycin if the warts are not responsive to other methods of treatment. Bleomycin is an anti-cancer medication which is injected directly into the wart. It can have other more significant side effects, such as losing a nail if the shot is given in the finger.

Genital Warts Are Different

Do not attempt to treat genital warts at home. Over 40 different types of HPV can infect the genital tract and 90 percent of those don't cause symptoms and resolve spontaneously within two years of the infection. But, persistent infections with HPV may increase your risk of cancer. Of the 13 different strains of HPV that are known to cause cancer, types 16 and 18 account for 70 percent of the cervical cancers worldwide.9

Your physician will discuss the possible treatments for genital warts with you. The factors that often influence the treatment plan will include the size of the warts, how many there are, where they are located, cost of the treatment, convenience to the individual, adverse effects of the treatments, and your preference. Most genital warts respond within three months of treatment. Although complications are rare, the skin where the wart once was may stay darker or lighter than the surrounding area.

Some doctors may recommend getting vaccinated with an HPV vaccine such as Gardasil to protect against four HPV strains associated with genital warts and cancer.

Proponents of the Gardasil vaccination claim that it's safe and effective for children and adults who want to prevent the spread of the HPV virus. The evidence, however, does not support this. There's  evidence showing the HPV vaccine can trigger significant neurological side effects and immune system disorders. Recent research even suggests the vaccine may render you susceptible to more serious strains of HPV.

It's important to note that HPV vaccination does not treat existing HPV infections, nor does it work if you have previously been infected with the HPV's in the vaccine. I recommend doing some serious homework before you agree to take this vaccine, or give it to your child.

Use a Physician Who Listens

Your healthcare and the healthcare of your children is in your hands. You must take the responsibility to make the decisions about prevention, treatment, and vaccines. Doctors, agencies, researchers, and scientists will not be the individuals who experience the side effects from treatment or live with the problems that result. While it may take some work, keep looking until you find a doctor who will listen to your concerns and work with you to ensure good health for yourself and your family.