While we all look forward to the summer, one unpleasant consequence of warmer weather can be the appearance of warts on the skin. Dr Lisa Chan advises how to deal with them and, better still, avoid them completely.
As the days get hotter and we tend to wear less clothing, more patients are coming to me with complaints about discovering various lumps and bumps over their skin. One of the most common ailments we see at the clinic are warts, which are small growths that appear as the result of an infection by human papillomavirus (aka HPV).
HPV spreads via skin contact and from one part of the body to another, especially if the skin is damaged or the immune system is weak. It’s more common in children, whose immune systems aren’t as well-developed as adults’, while mothers with warts can occasionally spread them to babies through the delivery process or breastfeeding.
Two to six months after infection, warts can appear as brown, pink, grey or flesh-coloured growths. There may also be a pattern of tiny black dots, due to clotted blood vessels. Depending on where the virus takes hold, different types of warts can occur over the face (filiform, flat), hands (common), feet (plantar) or genital areas. When there are several warts in close proximity, the lesions can even appear cauliflower-shaped.
Although warts are benign, they may feel unpleasant to the touch, due to their roughness, and may also be painful because of their protruding nature. Some of my patients are embarrassed when they occur over prominent areas, such as the face and hands, which can interfere with social activities and impact their quality of life. If you do get warts, what treatments are available? You could wait and see if your body gets rid of the warts on its own, which might take several years, and new warts could grow in the meantime. There are also over-the-counter and prescription peels, which can gradually remove the wart after several months.
However, home remedies can cause blistering and scarring. If you have diabetes or other chronic illnesses, it might be best to get warts treated by a doctor if they bother you. Options include carbon dioxide laser, electrosurgery, cryosurgery, curettage or immunotherapy. As there are no treatments for the virus itself, warts may still reoccur after removal.
To lower the chances of getting warts, there are several things that can be done:
- Get vaccinated against HPV;
- Wash hands after touching items used by others;
- Don’t share towels;
- Keep skin dry and clean;
- Don’t bite fingernails;
- Don’t pick at warts – this can spread them to other parts of the body
- Bandage and cover affected areas;
- Don’t go barefoot around public pools, locker rooms or showers;
- Pay attention to good diet and exercise – a stronger immune system will help fi ght off a host of illnesses!
This story first appeared in Prestige Hong Kong.