NOTE: This post discusses common, harmless skin conditions caused by HPV that are often seen in children and adults. It does not speak to HPV infection that involves sexual transmission, cancer, HIV, or other serious conditions.
Today, The Bridge discusses warts, an extremely common skin condition that has affected most of us at some point during our lives.
Common warts are painless skin growths that are usually raised, bumpy, and flesh-colored.
Warts are caused by viruses in the human papillomavirus (HPV) family. A person contracts the virus through direct skin-to-skin contact, such as a “high-five” or handshake. It can also come from indirect contact with an infected surface, such as a pencil, toy, or doorknob. The HPV virus breaches the outermost layer of the skin, usually through a tiny scratch or crack, which may not even be visible to the naked eye. The virus causes rapid growth of cells in the outer layer of the skin, creating a wart over time.
Simple warts may or may not spread and in most cases will go away completely without treatment. During the time when warts are present, though, they may cause physical discomfort if located in an area where chafing occurs, such as on the hand when holding a pen or in areas rubbed by clothing. If so, there are a number of ways that warts can be treated, both medically and holistically.
In traditional Western (allopathic) medicine, remedies include freezing warts with liquid nitrogen, burning the warts with caustic solutions, scraping them off with a scalpel, or inserting a needle that runs an electric current through the wart. More severe cases may require laser skin re-surfacing, but this is rarely necessary. Popular holistic methods of treating warts include “smothering” them or using herbs, essential oils, or vitamins to burn the wart at the skin surface. Whichever method(s) are chosen, treating warts is a process requiring time and patience.
“Smothering” a wart involves using an application of duct tape. Cut a piece of duct tape to fit the dimensions of the wart. Stick the tape on the wart and leave for 5-6 days, then remove the tape. Soak the wart in water for a few minutes and then file or scrape the wart down with a (disposable) emery board or pumice stone. If the wart is still present, repeat the process.
Apple Cider Vinegar
A common herbal remedy is to use undiluted apple cider vinegar. Dab the wart with vinegar and then apply a band-aid over the site. Repeat daily until the wart shrivels and falls off.
You can make an herbal compress with powdered birch bark, available online and in some health food stores. Birch bark contains an aspirin-like salicylate compound which you can apply to the skin daily to gradually “burn” the wart. Steep some powdered birch bark in hot water as if making a tea, let cool and then strain. Dip a small square of gauze bandage into the liquid, squeeze out the excess moisture and apply to the skin; cover with tape or a band-aid. Store the extra liquid in the refrigerator.
Another “burning” method is to crush a few vitamin C tablets and add enough water to make a paste; apply the paste directly to the wart once daily and cover with a bandage.
Using essential oils is also something to consider. In conjunction with essential oil safety expert Robert Tisserand, Plant Therapy has developed a kid safe (ages 2-10) product designed to help smooth raised skin edges called No More Warts*. It is safe and effective for children over age 10 and adults as well. Dab the lesion with a 50% mixture of carrier oil and the synergy at least twice daily and cover with a band-aid.
Andrew Weil, M.D., a world-renowned expert in the field of integrative medicine (an approach to health care which encompasses body, mind, and spirit) recommends mental visualization as his preferred technique for removing warts. Dr. Weil says that children are particularly good at this! You can read more about this interesting modality here.
Molluscum contagiosum is another common skin condition caused by an HPV virus. It spreads in the same way as common warts, which is either through direct skin contact or indirect contact with an object. It usually presents with firm, round, pinkish-red painless bumps on the skin. The bumps often have a central indentation.
Molluscum may occur anywhere on the body and tends to be seen in clusters. In persons with healthy immune systems, molluscum warts may last for several months (typically between six to eighteen months). They may last much longer in people with weak immune systems from cancer treatment or other serious illness. In most cases, doctors elect not to treat the condition because the therapy can cause physical scarring and emotional distress. However, if molluscum warts cause significant chafing under clothing, make it difficult to hold a pencil, or cause emotional distress to the child, doctors may choose to treat it.
Western medicine treatment methods for molluscum are the same as described above. Burning, freezing, scraping, and electrocautery methods are the most common. In a minority of cases where molluscum is persistent for long periods (years) or is heavy with clusters, a doctor may advise laser treatments with topical retinoid or anti-viral creams.
On his website, Dr. Weil answered a question from a mother whose child was infected with molluscum. Dr. Weil noted that it can be difficult to wait for the condition to disappear on its own. He said: “I don’t know of any natural remedies that would cure the condition, but you might speed things along by taking your daughter to a hypnotherapist. Skin conditions often respond very well to hypnotic suggestion.” In the same post, he also mentions herbal preparations that may be useful in stimulating the immune system to provide support.
Here is the takeaway – while warts can be less than aesthetically pleasing and frustrating to deal with, they are (nearly always) harmless and will resolve with time.
In my own practice as an Emergency Department nurse, I find that it’s most often parents or grandparents who are more traumatized by the condition than the child who is actually affected.
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Andrew Weil, MD website: “Use your head to remove warts?” DrWeil.com