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Waging War on Warts

Warts are those tiny, annoying, unwelcome intruders that appear out of nowhere and turn our skin into their own personal playground. They are stubborn, unsightly and sometimes embarrassing. How do we combat this invader? Like anything, understanding and uncovering their causes gives us the ammo to reclaim our skin.

Warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). Today we will leave out the genital warts that are different forms of HPV and I will just focus on skin warts. This microscopic antagonist evades our defenses and sneaks into our skin through the tiniest cuts or scrapes. Like so many viruses, we are probably exposed to HPV often, but our healthy immune system kills it off right away. But if HPV takes hold, it manipulates the growth of skin cells to create a wart. It's not picky. Warts can appear on the hands, fingers, soles of feet (plantar warts) and they can be flat or raised. Flat warts can appear on the face and blend in to look like moles.

Plantar wart

Touching a wart does not spread it unless you have an open skin wound. Once it is inside the body it can spread through the blood stream, although most warts just stay in one location and grow from there.

I like to think of the war on warts as your immune system waging a battle. Anything that "annoys" the wart can give your body an edge. So how do we annoy it so your immune cells can do their thing?

  • Salicylic Acid- This is the ingredient in most drugstore wart treatments and it works by pealing the wart layer by layer. It takes patients and preserverence.

  • Annoy it with the glue of duct tape - In one study, 85% of patients who were diligent about using duct tape saw their wart resolve. There is some medical controversy but its easy to try. Apply duct tape to the wart and leave it covered for 7 days. If still there and you have the patience, leave it there for another week or more. To really get the results, apply super glue under the tape.

  • Cryotherapy- A health professional uses liquid nitrogen to freeze the wart, effectively cutting off its supply lines. For large warts or plantar warts that are resistant, it may take 2 or more treatments. Combine it with the duct tape for even better results.

  • Laser treatment or Surgery- These are the big guns. Quick but expensive and require a visit to a specialist.

  • Immunotherapy- Certain medications encourage the immune system to attack the wart virus. This is usually reserved for people with immune-deficiency who need extreme firepower to win the wart battle.

There is no cure for the wart virus. Strengthening your immune system with proper sleep, good eating, anti-inflammatory nutrition and not smoking can both eradicate and prevent warts from taking hold.  Most warts will resolve on their own within a year or two but they also can come back. It's a battle. But its a battle that you can win.


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