An introduction to common warts
Common warts, also known as vurruca vulgaris, are the most typical type of wart that usually appears after the HPV virus has infected your immune system. Similar to periungual warts, common warts usually affect the hands and sometimes the damaged or broken skin around the fingernails.
Often they are transmitted to your face via your fingers, a common occurrence with young children who are often victims of this particular wart variant. As with most warts, common warts are slow to manifest of the surface of the skin, usually appearing weeks after the HPV virus has entered your system.
This is why it is important that you consult your doctor if you notice any changes in your common wart symptoms, especially if these changes are quick to occur as this is unusual in episodes of common warts.
The causes of common warts
The HPV virus is the root cause of most wart outbreaks, including episodes of common warts. However, there are a number of variables that can make you more susceptible to catching the infection, including lifestyle habits and physical proximity.
- HPV virus: The primary cause of any wart outbreak will always be the HPV virus. HPV, or the human papilloma virus, is known to be connected with certain types of cervical cancer; however the viral infections relationship with warts is not as recognised. The strains of HPV responsible for common warts (usually HPV-1, HPV-2 and HPV-4), are noncancerous but can still upset your body’s immune system, particularly if you are young or suffer from a pre-existing health condition. The virus often enters the body by permeating the outer layer of skin and can rest in your system for weeks before any symptoms manifest. In most cases, if you are strong and healthy, your immune cells are able to attack and destroy the infected cells, preventing the development of any warts. However, if your immune system is tired, sluggish or immature, it cannot cope with the virus and HPV will start to irritate your keratinocytes. Keratinocytes are the cells under your skin responsible for producing keratin, a tough protein often found in your nails, skin and hair follicles. When this protein starts to grow excessively, it can cause hardened lumps of rough skin to develop on your epidermis – these are known as warts
- Weak immune system: The immune system is the part of your body responsible for protecting you against allergens, pathogens and infections. It works around the clock to keep you healthy, warding off potential germs and viruses, however sometimes it can become sluggish and fatigued. Normally this is due to a pre-existing health condition, such as hypothyroidism, malnutrition, HIV or even psychological complaints like stress. When your immune system becomes exhausted, the immune cells are unable to respond properly to a threat like the HPV virus and your system can quickly become infected. Prevention is considerably more important than a cure, which is why it is important that you do as much as possible to maintain your immune system and make sure your body is getting everything it needs to remain strong and healthy
- Poor nutrition: Poor nutrition can be crippling for your immune system as well as other areas of your body such as your nervous, circulatory, and digestive systems. Your body relies on your diet to get the essential nutrients that it needs to function and, when it is deprived of these vitamins and minerals, it won’t be long before the side-effects start to reveal themselves. For example, a lack of vitamin B12 is often the main cause of anaemia while those with vitamin D deficiencies, usually find themselves suffering from joint or bone problems. Worse than not getting enough of the right foods is getting too many of the bad. Refined sugars, processed fats, alcohol and caffeine are the worst culprits when it comes to weakening your immune system and upsetting your digestion. All of them contain inflammatory chemicals that can irritate your adrenal glands and stimulate the production of histamine. Eventually, your immune system will struggle to keep up with this demand and will eventually become exhausted. As if this wasn’t bad enough, you may also find that your skin becomes weakened and you are more susceptible to digestive issues such as constipation or diarrhoea
- Stress: The association between stress and your immune system is not one that many people are conscious of, however stress can often have an extremely negative impact on your overall health and wellbeing. When you experience a rush of anxiety, it can trigger your sympathetic nervous system and fool your body into believing that you are in a life or death situation. This is known as the ‘flight or fight’ reflex and it will be pushing your immune system to produce more inflammatory chemicals like adrenalin or histamine. This is because your body is anticipating that you may be caught in a scenario that requires you to fight for your life – your heart rate will accelerate, your blood pressure will rise and you may notice that your digestion becomes upset or stagnant. Important nutrients will be pumped away from key areas such as your skin and instead redirected towards major internal organs like your heart and lungs. The result of this instinctive response is that your immune system becomes compromised, your liver function starts to dip, your digestion becomes impaired, and finally, your skin becomes more brittle and easier for the HPV virus to permeate
- Direct contact: Direct contact with an infected party is one of the most common ways that the HPV virus is contracted. The virus can be spread through skin on skin contact so even touching someone who suffers from the condition can put you at risk of developing an episode of warts. Common warts that appear on your hands can even be transmitted to your face if you have a habit of touching your cheeks, lips or nose, so the best thing to do would be to limit your interactions with those that are affected by warts and be mindful of your own conduct if you suffer from the affliction
- Indirect contact: Indirect contact is not always as recognised as a way of catching the HPV virus. Nevertheless, the infection can linger on everyday inanimate objects, such as razors, skin creams, nail files and hairbrushes, as well as surfaces like floors, desks and tables. This is partially to do with the dead skin cells that can sometimes remain on these areas and sometimes due to the environment that you inhabit. The HPV virus can thrive in moist, warm places, which is why it is often contracted in changing rooms or at swimming pools.
The symptoms of common warts
The symptoms of common warts are perhaps the most recognisable out of all the wart subtypes. Most of you are probably familiar with what a common wart looks like and can easily identify one; however, it can still be useful to understand why your symptoms occur as well as the psychological impact that warts can sometimes have.
- Rough skin: Warts often appear when you suffer from dry or damaged skin. This is because your skin cells are weaker and your epidermis (the outermost layer of your skin) is easier for pathogens to penetrate. In the case of warts, an overproduction of keratin, a tough protein, can cause your skin to become even dryer and to lose moisture, making it appear brittle and more prone to flaking
- Raised lumps: When an excess of keratin occurs, it can cause a hardened lump of skin to manifest on your epidermis. This lump of dry, toughened skin can often be discoloured in appearance, and can occasionally change in shape and six. If you notice anything unusual changes in your wart, you should speak to your doctor as soon as possible
- Skin discolouration: In episodes of common warts, the skin can become reddened and inflame around the lesion, with the wart itself often appearing greyish or brown in colour. This pigmentation can be caused as a result of swelling beneath the skin but it can also be triggered by the excessive amount of dead skin lingering on the surface of your epidermis
- Clotted blood vessels: Common warts are sometimes referred to as ‘seed warts’ due to the appearance of the dark, seed-like dots that sometimes manifest in the centre of their wart. These dots are in fact tiny blood vessels that have ruptured beneath your skin, causing blood to leak into the surrounding skin tissues. This is not considered to be a serious issue although it can sometimes be uncomfortable if pressure is applied to the affected area
- Stress: Stress is a common emotion felt by suffers of common warts, particularly as they grow on very visible parts of the body, such as the hands and face. Warts have often been known to affect a patient’s self-esteem, confidence and to sometimes make them feel stigmatised in certain social situations. Nevertheless, it is important to try and find ways of soothing yourself when you start to feel anxious or self-conscious, as stress can have major repercussions for your immune system.
Most sufferers of warts are willing to try a variety of home remedies to ease their symptoms and, most of the time, these natural solutions prove to be quite effective and successful at treating the skin affliction. It should be noted though, that if you experience any negative side-effects as a result of one of these remedies, you should speak to your doctor at your earliest convenience.
- Relax: If you start to feel self-conscious in social situations or notice that you are continuously worrying about your symptoms, the best thing that you can do is to take a deep breath and try to calm yourself down. Stress can be disastrous for immune system as well as other parts of your body, so you should be doing everything in your power to reduce your stress levels during this time. Try to focus on activities that you enjoy and don’t push yourself into situations where you feel trapped or ill at ease. The message is simple – be kind to yourself. Indulge in a luxurious hot bath, binge-watch your favourite programme on Netflix – so long as it isn’t affecting your health, do whatever makes you happy. You could even try taking up yoga, tai-chi or meditation as these practices are great at relaxing your mind and teaching you breathing techniques that will enable you to take control of any linger apprehensions or doubts
- Good nutrition: Your body needs a steady supply of nutrients in order to perform at optimum levels so what you eat is very important, especially if you suffer from a pre-existing health condition. You should be consuming foods with high amounts of vitamin B, C and E, especially if you want to keep your skin cells strong and healthy. These nutrients can normally be found in fruits, vegetables and most wholegrain products. It’s also important that you get a balanced intake of minerals such as magnesium, ironand zinc as these can help to increase your immune function and even improve your mood! Try to reduce your consumption of inflammatory foods such as caffeine, alcohol and refined sugars, and instead drink more water. Dehydration can be very dangerous for your immune system and it can make you more prone to kidney infections as well as constipation and viral infections like HPV
- Avoid direct and indirect contact: Direct and indirect contact with an infected party, are perhaps the most common ways of contracting the HPV virus. This issue can be difficult though – if a friend or a loved one suffers from warts, you will not want to appear antisocial or uncaring. However, there are a few basic steps you can take to protect yourself from catching the viral infection. Firstly; do not share clothes, towels or personal belongings with someone who suffers from the HPV virus. This should prevent you from picking up the infection from a contaminated object and might help to stem the spread of the virus. When possible, you should also try to minimalise any physical contact with an infected party – this might be impossible if your spouse or children are carrying the affliction, but if this is the case, try to monitor their interactions with friends and family. Schools often act as a breeding ground for germs and pathogens, and it probably won’t take much to infect an entire class with the virus. Lastly; be sensible and cover up in HPV hotspots such as changing rooms or swimming pools. Make sure you are wearing flip-flops and encourage your loved ones to do the same to avoid an outbreak of verrucas or other types of warts
- Baking soda: A common ingredient in cakes and pastries, baking soda can also be used as a treatment for warts due to its anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties. Once diluted with a little water or some vinegar (try apple-cider vinegar for an extra kick!) the soda can work to attack the wart, eating away at the infected skin cells and combatting the internal infection. You can try soaking your hands in a baking soda solution, or even apply the remedy topically and leave on overnight. You may have to repeat this process several times before your wart starts to diminish
- Thuja cream: Thuja cream is often used as a topical remedy for viral complaints such as warts and cold sores, and has even been used in the treatment of osteoporosis and joint pain. The cream derives from extracts of the thuja plant, an evergreen tree common in parts of East Asia and North America. If you are interested in trying this solution, Your Health Food Store stocks a range of organic thuja creams and ointments, although you should be aware that this option is not suitable for pregnant or breastfeeding mothers
- Basil: Basil is more widely known as tasty addition to most Italian dishes; however the herb does contain a variety of qualities that makes it well suited to the treatment of warts. The plant can act as a natural anti-viral agent, combatting the internal HPV virus as well as reducing the physical, external symptoms. You can try this remedy by crushing fresh basil leaves and applying the juices to the affected area
- Pineapple: Not only are pineapples an excellent source of vitamin C, they can also be used in the treatment of warts. Fresh pineapple can be acidic and contains enzymes that are capable of softening a wart, attacking the infected and dead skin cells. This can reduce the overall appearance of the lesion, although fresh pineapple can sting slightly when applied directly to the affected area.
The herbal remedies associated with warts often look at treating the internal symptoms as well as the external, physical appearance of the affliction. Should you notice any changes to your warts or feel that the infection is persisting, despite these solutions, you should consult your doctor as soon as possible.
- Neem cream: Neem Cream is made from extracts of the neem tree, a plant typically found in India and used in a great variety of herbal medicines. Neem has a long history of being used to relieve itching and soothe dry, damaged skin. You can apply the ointment topically to your wart in order to nourish any brittle skin and alleviate any irritation. This treatment may not be suitable for pregnant or breastfeeding mothers, or those who are allergic to nuts
- Echinaforce®: Echinaforce® is produced using organic extracts of the Echinacea plant, which has been used in herbal medicine for centuries, particularly when it comes to strengthening the immune system against viral infections. This treatment might not treat the external symptoms of your wart, but it will work to support your immune system.
Conventional medicines can be very effective at treating the external appearance of warts, but they are not interested in trying to support your immune system against an outbreak of HPV. This can often result in short-term relief from your symptoms, before they eventually manifest again and the cycle repeats itself.
- Topical creams: Topical wart creams are usually available over the counter at most pharmacies and normally contain high levels of salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is a keratolytic and can work as a powerful moisturiser, hydrating the damaged skin cells and diminishing the overall external appearance of warts. However, these gels and creams will not strengthen your immune system or work to fight the spread of the HPV virus, meaning that there is no guarantee that your warts will not simply reappear again at a later stage
- Salicylic acid: Salicylic acid is a more concentrated form of the key component of many wart creams and gels. It should not be used often or applied too generously, but it is known to be successful in treating the physical appearance of warts, with the blemishes usually peeling away after a few applications. Nevertheless, the treatment falters when it comes to dealing with your internal infection so there is nothing to stop your warts from re-emerging
- Cryotherapy: Cryotherapy is a procedure that involves exposing your wart to liquid nitrogen, freezing the lesion until the infected skin cells are destroyed and peel away from the epidermis. This process is not recommended for children as it can be quite painful and occasionally causes blisters to emerge around the treated area. Similar to most other forms of conventional medicines, cryotherapy will not reduce your susceptibility to the HPV virus, and multiple bouts of the treatment may be necessary
- Surgery: Surgery of any sort is usually only an option if all other treatments have failed or your bout of warts is particularly nasty. Laser surgery is the most common type of surgery recommended to wart sufferers and it involves burning away your wart using a concentrated beam of light. This can sometimes result in scarring but is often successful, despite the treatment doing nothing to alleviate the presence of the HPV virus.