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Warts are small growths on the skin caused by a viral infection in the skin's top layer. They can happen anywhere on the body, but usually appear on the hands and feet. Warts are usually harmless and painless, but they can be disfiguring and embarrassing, and occasionally they hurt or itch. Warts may become painful if they're located in areas of repeated friction or pressure. The following are different types of warts:
Signs and Symptoms
What Causes It?
Warts commonly occur in children and young adults, but they may appear at any age. Genital warts are contagious, while common, flat, and plantar warts are less likely to spread from person to person. However, plantar warts may be spread from moist surfaces in communal swimming areas. All warts can spread from one part of the body to another. Some warts will disappear without treatment, although it can take as long as 6 months to 2 years. Whether treated or not, warts that disappear often reappear.
Warts are caused by various strains of a common virus in humans, the human papillomavirus (HPV). They are more likely to occur if the skin has been broken or damaged in some way. Your risk of getting warts is increased by direct contact with warts or the fluid in warts (notably genital warts), using communal facilities (such as locker rooms), skin trauma, and diseases, or drugs that weaken your immune system.
What to Expect at Your Provider's Office
Most warts can be diagnosed by location and appearance. Your health care provider may want to cut into a wart to confirm that it is not a corn, callus, or other similar appearing growth. Your health care provider is unlikely to order laboratory tests, but sonography may be considered as reliable support for plantar wart diagnosis. If you have genital warts, your health care provider will want to check inside your anus and (in women) vagina.
In most cases, the best treatment is no treatment at all because most warts will disappear over time without any intervention. Studies show that one half of cutaneous warts resolve spontaneously within one year, and about two-thirds within two years. And some research shows 60 - 70% of warts clearance within 3 months without any treatment. For warts that are painful or unsightly, medical treatments include drug therapy (application of salicylic acid), cryosurgery with liquid nitrogen ("freezing" the wart to destroy tissue), electrosurgery (burning), lasers, and cutting out the wart. Other potential treatments include bleomycin (an anticancer drug that is injected into the wart), interferon (a treatment to boost the body's immune reaction to the wart), and other forms of immunotherapy. There's even some anecdotal evidence that applying duct tape and leaving it in place for 6 days, can help treat common warts. Simply repeat the process every 6 days, leaving the wart uncovered for 12 hours before covering it for another 6 days until the wart resolves. Unless your wart is causing significant problems, you should avoid treatments that have risks or could result in scarring.
Common, flat, and plantar warts: nonprescription preparations using salicylic acid are available over the counter. Special cushions are available to relieve pressure and pain from plantar warts.
Genital warts: in most cases, your health care provider will either apply podophyllin weekly or prescribe a podofilox for you to apply. A vaccine is now available to protect women against contracting the HPV virus responsible for genital warts. The vaccine is 90 - 100% effective in protecting against HPV, the disease.
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
Nutritional and herbal support may enhance immune function and minimize recurrence of HPV, the virus that causes warts. Work with a knowledgeable physician to find the therapies or supplements that are right for you. Natural supplements may interact with a variety of medications. Always inform all of your physicians about any supplements or therapies you are using.
Nutrition and Supplements
These nutritional tips may help reduce symptoms:
You may address nutritional deficiencies with the following supplements:
Herbs may help strengthen and tone the body's systems. As with any therapy, you should work with your health care provider to diagnose your problem before starting treatment. Some herbs may have side effects or interact with certain medications you are taking, so you should speak with your health care provider before starting any herbal therapy. You may use herbs as dried extracts (capsules, powders, and teas), glycerites (glycerine extracts), or tinctures (alcohol extracts). Unless otherwise indicated, make teas with 1 tsp. herb per cup of hot water. Steep covered 5 - 10 minutes for leaf or flowers, and 10 - 20 minutes for roots. Drink 2 - 4 cups per day. You may use tinctures alone or in combination as noted.
Topical applications may also be effective for treating warts. Stop any topical application if irritation should develop in the surrounding skin. For plantar, flat, and common warts use the following applications:
To maximize benefit, place 2 - 4 drops of tincture of thuja or tea tree oil (Melaleuca alternifolia) on the wart before covering with peel or garlic. Do not use tea tree oil internally. This application may need to be repeated nightly for up to 3 weeks. The wart will turn black as it begins to die.
For external genital warts, paint the warts with vitamin A or beta-carotene once or twice daily. Add 3 - 4 drops each of thuja, echinacea, and lomatium for best results.
Two well designed trials evaluating the use of homeopathy in the treatment of common and plantar warts found that the remedies were no more effective than placebo in reducing the number of warts. Despite the lack of evidence from these two trials, professional homeopaths might recommend one of the following treatments for warts based on their knowledge and clinical experience. Before prescribing a remedy, homeopaths take into account an individual's constitutional type -- your physical, emotional, and intellectual makeup. An experienced homeopath assesses all of these factors when determining the most appropriate remedy for a particular individual.
In one study of 40 people, hypnosis resolved more warts than either topical salicylic acid, or a placebo (dummy treatment). In a study of localized topical treatment, 86% of the treated warts cleared while only 41% of placebo treated warts cleared.
Even with treatment, some warts may return. Genital warts are more likely to return because there's no cure for the virus that causes them, and because warts are more difficult to control in a moist environment.
Acupuncture may help stimulate your immune system.
Do not use podophyllin if you are pregnant.
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Review Date: 6/9/2012
Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
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