Much folklore is associated with warts, and some intriguing forms of treatment. One ‘cure’ was to rub your warts with stones. The stones then had to be wrapped up and left at the crossroads on the way to church. If another person picked up the stones, he would heal your warts by acquiring them himself!
Quite simply, warts are small, dry lumps of skin often seen on the hands, knees and face and they develop when a virus invades the skin cells and causes them to multiply very quickly. They’re spread through contact with skin that’s been shed from a wart or by the virus coming into contact with damaged skin, particularly if it is warm and moist. That’s why it’s advisable to use only your own towels until your warts have cleared, to reduce the risk of spreading the condition to other members of your household.
Warts are a nuisance as they can be so ugly, but they’re normally harmless and, if untreated, most of these ‘common warts’ will eventually disappear of their own accord -although this may not happen for many years.
The virus’s incubation period varies from a few weeks to several months, as it often lies dormant for some time. That’s why warts can erupt months after the initial infection. For the same reason warts can reappear after treatment has apparently been successful. Adults will usually have developed some immunity to the virus over the years and are less likely to catch warts than children.
If you find common warts unsightly or annoying, you can apply a solution or cream every day to get rid of them. Most contain a caustic such as acetic acid, which destroys any tissue it’s applied to, or a keratolytic drug such as salicylic acid to soften the wart and loosen it. Keeping the wart(s) covered with a plaster may speed up the treatment process, but remember, there’s no immediate cure and treatment with one of these products can still take weeks to complete. Make sure, too, that you follow instructions very carefully, because these remedies can make the skin surrounding the wart very sore. Immediately wash off any solvent accidentally applied to surrounding skin to avoid painful acid burns.
If you have a wart that doesn’t respond to an over-the-counter treatment, ask your doctor for advice. Other methods of removing warts are the same as those for verrucas .
Women can develop genital warts in or around the vagina or on the cervix and men can have them on the penis. These warts are usually transmitted during sexual intercourse but may occur for other reasons.
Although genital warts are also due to a virus infection, a slightly different strain is probably responsible for each type of wart. Most genital warts develop from a root-like base below the surface of the skin and all have their own blood supply, so this must be taken into account when treating them. Never treat any warts on the genitals or around the anus with over-the-counter remedies.
Some wart-like brown or black eruptions not due to a virus are the so-called ‘seborrhoeic’ or senile warts which many people develop on their body, temple or scalp as they get older. These usually cause no problems, but they can sometimes itch severely. It’s best to have them examined by a doctor who may advise removing them.
In general, it’s advisable to let a doctor examine any wart when it first appears and especially, as with moles, if it changes in size or colour, or begins to bleed. But usually warts remain nothing but an annoying blemish.