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Wart’s up?

Warts are pesky things caused by a virus called the human papilloma virus (HPV) that invades the upper layers of the skin. Dr Manish K Shah on those pesky skin ailments

health and fitness Updated: Feb 09, 2009 20:45 IST
Dr Manish K Shah

They may range in size from a few millimetres to some centimetres. They come in various shapes. They may be flat-surfaced or have a cauliflower-like growth. Warts are pesky things caused by a virus called the human papilloma virus (HPV) that invades the upper layers of the skin.

No location is immune. Common warts are those that occur anywhere on the body, but are seen more frequently on the hands and feet. They tend to be rough to the touch.

Trauma in the form of biting the nails facilitates their spread. On the soles of the feet, warts often resemble corns. After a series of corn cap applications, one sees that just the top of the wart and the surrounding skin shed, but the core remains intact.

Flat warts resemble raised freckles and are often located on the face and limbs. Friction caused by shaving and waxing allow them to multiply. Warts can occur on the genitals too, in a vegetable-like growth. In this location, they are often sexually acquired.

Virus call
Why do certain people get warts? The wart virus is widely distributed in nature. When one’s immune system is down, the virus enters the skin and proliferates. The body’s defence system may be weak in general or specifically against HPV. When the immunity repairs itself, warts may disappear spontaneously. Stress too seems to figure in their growth. I have had a few cases when after the stressful situation was resolved, the warts disappeared.

Getting rid of warts can be an onerous task. The basic aim is to destroy as many warts as possible. This effectively diminishes the load of virus in the body. Combinations of salicylic acid and lactic acid are appropriate on the hands and feet, but never the face. Of course, it may take weeks to eradicate warts in this fashion.

A particularly safe, effective and relatively pain-free treatment option is cryotherapy. In this method, the wart is frozen with extreme cold in the form of liquid nitrogen.

Cryotherapy too may require multiple sessions depending on the size and thickness of the wart. Alternatively, warts may be burnt by electrosurgery, under local anaesthesia.

Wish them away
A newer agent called imiquimod is effective, particularly for genital warts. For common warts, it may work if combined with an agent that will dissolve thick skin. Remember that destructive modalities target those warts that are being treated.
There are often virus particles lurking in surrounding skin that are not visible. So if new warts sprout, they too have to be dealt with.

Alternative medicine modalities like homoeopathy and hypnosis have been tried for stubborn warts with varying degrees of success. I have come across some patients whose warts have dissolved within a couple of weeks of homoeopathy treatment. Unfortunately there have been others who have not responded even after months of treatment. But I do feel to some extent you can wish away warts if you have an incredibly positive bent of mind.