You wake up one morning and feel a raised, rough, growth on your finger. Closer examination reveals a round, ugly wart near your fingernail. Before you panic, realize that warts are usually harmless, and can be treated successfully. So let’s dismiss the old wives’ tale about touching a toad, or the misconception that warts are the result of poor hygiene, and discuss the real deal about these annoying little skin eruptions.
Warts are caused by the human papillomavirus, or HPV. There are more than 100 strains of HPV. The different strains of the virus cause warts to appear on various parts of the body. Common warts typically appear on the hands, and fingers, especially around the fingernails. The virus invades the body through tiny cuts or openings in the skin, such as hangnails, or ragged cuticles.
Plantar warts occur on pressure areas on the soles of the feet, such as the ball of the foot or the heel. Plantar warts can cause pain and difficulty walking if left untreated. Flat warts appear on the arms, legs, and face, and usually affect children and teenagers.
Genital warts are sexually transmitted warts that occur in the genital area and mucous membranes. Since genital warts can lead to serious conditions, such as cervical cancer, you should always confer with your physician for evaluation and treatment options.
Warts spread from person to person through direct skin contact. Be diligent about washing your hands, especially in the gym or locker room. If you are a member of a gym or workout center, make sure towels are clean, or better yet, bring your own. Check with gym management to be sure exercise equipment is cleaned regularly and sanitized between users. You can even take your own sanitizing wipes for added protection if you’re unsure of cleaning practices at your facility. Wear shower shoes or flip-flops when showering after your workout.
Always wash your hands after you touch or treat a wart. Warts are easily transferred from one part of the body to another. Excellent personal hygiene is essential to prevent new warts from forming.
Warts can be excised using a minor surgical procedure or laser treatment. Freezing the wart with liquid nitrogen is a treatment administered in the doctor’s office. The liquid is applied to the wart, causing a blister, which subsequently falls off in a week or so. Some warts go away on their own, without treatment, but that usually takes months, or even years.
One of least invasive and most effective treatments for warts is the application of salicylic acid. You can apply this simple treatment at home, without pain or hassle.
The treatment works by softening and dissolving the abnormal skin cells. Salicylic acid is available over the counter in gel and ointment form. You can also purchase salicylic acid wart removal pads and discs, which are often used to treat painful plantar warts.
Salicylic acid is applied topically with a dropper, to assure the liquid only touches the affected area. Soak the wart in warm water for at least 5 minutes before applying the salicylic acid. This will soften the skin, allowing the salicylic acid to penetrate the hard outer crust of the wart. You can also use an emery board, pumice stone, or clean washcloth to rub off dead skin cells, so the medication can reach the core of the wart. Apply the salicylic acid carefully, and then cover the affected area with an adhesive bandage, clean gauze, or a piece of duct tape.
Remember, the HPV virus is contagious. Be sure to discard the emery board after use, and wash the washcloth in hot water before using it again. Wash your hands thoroughly after treating the wart.
The treatment can be used once or twice a day for up to 12 weeks. Do not exceed the recommended dose as written on the label. If the wart does not respond to the treatment, if it spreads, or if irritation develops, consult your physician. Some warts are resistant to treatment and may require a more aggressive treatment regime.
Persistence is the key, so don’t give up if you don’t see immediate improvement. Apply the salicylic acid, and gently file the dead skin away with each application. In some cases, it can take up to 6 months, or even longer, to see results.
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