An introduction to flat warts
Flat warts, also known as juvenile warts, are much smoother and smaller than other variations of the infection.
As the name might suggest, flat warts often appear in children as well as teenagers and, although they are considerably smaller than common warts or plantar warts, they can also cluster together in masses, with up to 100 appearing at any given time.1
This aspect of flat warts can be quite stressful, especially for self-conscious teenagers since they often appear on the face, neck and arms.
Surgery is not always a valid option either, as children are strongly advised against undergoing cryotherapy or laser surgery. This means that most sufferers of flat warts feel as though they have no choice but to tolerate their skin condition and plaster on as much make-up as possible to conceal their blemishes.
However, this should not be the case as there are plenty of home and herbal remedies available to ease the condition.
The causes of flat warts
Flat warts, similar to most other variants of the skin condition, are primarily caused by the contraction of the HPV virus. This virus often affects those with an impaired or weakened immune system and can also be caught through direct and indirect contact.
If you are familiar with the triggers that can upset your immune system or aware of how the virus is spread, you can arm yourself with this knowledge and protect yourself against further outbreaks.
- HPV virus: The HPV virus is often associated with cervical cancer rather than warts. While it is true that the virus can be linked with this life-threatening illness, there are over a 100 strains of HPV and only a few are responsible for the development of cancer. Warts, fortunately, are caused by the noncancerous variants of the virus, usually HPV-1, HPV-2 or HPV-4. This means that while they can be uncomfortable to experience, they are definitely benign and only treated as a mild skin condition. In an episode of warts, HPV works by entering your immune system, either through the epidermal layer of skin or respiratory tract. Once there, the virus irritates your keratinocytes, the cells underneath your skin responsible for producing keratin. Keratin is a hard protein often contained in your nails, skin and hair follicles. When too much of this protein is produced, it can result in rough lumps of skin appearing on your face, arms or feet – these are warts and they can vary in size and colour depending on their type. Flat warts are normally caused by the HPV-3, HPV- 10 and HPV- 28 strains of the virus and they are physically distinguishable from common warts and periungual warts2
- Weak immune system: The HPV virus thrives on those who have a weakened or immature immune system. In the case of flat warts, the infection normally targets those who are young or possess immune systems that cannot adequately respond to the threat of the virus This often includes teenagers and children but the disease can also embrace patients of autoimmune illnesses like HIV, and those who suffer from conditions like hypothyroidism. If your immune cells are weak, they will not recognise the threat posed by the HPV virus until it is too late and your body will struggle to react to the disease, which is why some episodes of warts can be prolonged and persistent. The best thing that you can do in these cases is to try and give your immune system an extra boost and reduce bad lifestyle habits such as stress and poor nutrition.
- Poor nutrition: When it comes to supporting your immune system, your diet has a vital and integral role to play in nourishing your immune cells and maintaining your overall health and wellbeing. What you put into your body matters, especially if you are young or suffer from an existing health condition. Indulging in a greasy take-away on a Friday night might seem like a good way to welcome the weekend, but if you consume too many foods that are high in refined sugars, processed fats and caffeine, eventually it is going to take a toll on your immune system. These foods all contain inflammatory chemicals which can trigger the release of histamine, stressing your adrenal glands, upsetting your digestion and weakening your skin. Your immune system will eventually become fatigued and your immune cells will become sluggish, unable to effectively identify or attack invasive pathogens like the HPV virus
- Stress: Stress can be an unpleasant psychological symptom to experience but the chances are that most of you have no idea the amount of damage it is doing to your immune system. When you feel anxious or distressed, it can upset your sympathetic nervous system and fool your body into believing that you are in a genuinely life-threatening situation. Your immune system will respond to this cry for help by releasing a wave of inflammatory chemicals like histamine and adrenalin. These will work to dilate your blood vessels and increase your heartbeat, so that nutrients can be more effectively redirected from other organs like your skin and pumped to major organs like the heart and lungs. Your body will also produce more sweat in preparation for vigorous physical exercise and try to offload the contents of your digestive system, which can result in bouts of diarrhoea or, alternatively, constipation. If this pattern is repeated frequently enough, your immune cells will eventually become exhausted, your skin weakened, and the HPV virus will find it much easier to enter and infect your fatigued immune system
- Indirect contact: One of the most common ways that the HPV virus is contracted is through physical contact with infected objects or surfaces. For example, flat warts often appear in the facial area and this is sometimes because of how men shave. Shaving naturally irritates and weakens the skin around the jaw and beard area, making it easier for the infection to penetrate the skin. However, the infected skin cells shed during shaving can linger in the razor or on any nearby surfaces, waiting to come into contact with another victim. This is why it is advisable not to share any articles of clothing, towels, or items such as a razor with an infected party. Warts in general also appreciate warm, muggy environments which is why children often contract verrucas, or plantar warts, after visiting their local swimming pool or leisure centre
- Direct contact: The most obvious way to contract HPV is to come into direct contact with an infected sufferer. If you spend a continuous amount of time with someone infected by the virus, you are likely to pick it up yourself and manifest similar symptoms. This is why parents often catch verrucas from their children, making it vital that you take sensible precautions when interacting with a patient of flat warts. Interestingly, warts can also be transmitted to other areas of the body by touch. If you have an outbreak of warts on your fingers and continuously touch your face, the disease can be spread to this new area of your body.
The symptoms of flat warts
The symptoms of flat warts are easy to distinguish as they are physically very different in appearance from common warts or periungual warts.
However, flat warts often affect the face and neck area, and can cluster together in large numbers, making them difficult to cope with, especially if you are a younger sufferer.
- Smooth pustule: Flat warts are very different in appearance from other types of warts, such as common warts or periungual warts. This is because the surface of a flat wart is often smooth, rather than rough, and the lump is not as pronounced. However, while individually these warts might be less visibly upsetting than other variants, flat warts are known to cluster in groups, exaggerating their appearance - especially since they often affect the facial region of the body
- Mild skin discolouration: Skin discolouration is another feature that is downplayed in episodes of flat warts. Whereas both common warts and periungual warts can be greyish in colour, occasionally darkening to brown or yellow, flat warts are different. Flat warts are often fleshy coloured lesions and, although they can some appear yellowish as well, they are not as physically distinctive as common warts or verrucas
- Clotted blood vessels: If you have ever noticed a small, dark pinprick in the centre of one of your warts, the chances are that this is a clotted blood vessel. Clotted blood vessels occur when the tiny valve responsible for redirecting nutrients to your wart ruptures, causing blood to leak into the surrounding tissues. This is usually not something to be alarmed about, although it can cause some discomfort depending on where your warts appear
- Stress: Stress is definitely a prominent symptom of flat warts, since the condition often affects highly visible areas of the body, such as the face and neck. A good portion of flat wart sufferers are also teenagers or young adults, who are likely to be more concerned about their appearance, and more alarmed and embarrassed by their wart symptoms. Nevertheless, stress can be very detrimental for the immune system, so it is important that patients try to find ways of coping with any wart-induced anxiety or apprehension.
A variety of home remedies have appeared over the years, specifically aimed at treating the symptoms of warts. If you are serious about using natural solutions to ease your flat wart outbreak, you should also consider your lifestyle habits as well, particularly your diet and stress levels.
If you notice that your wart symptoms are changing or worsening, it is important that you speak to your doctor as soon as possible.
- Relax: The devastating effect of psychological symptoms such as stress, on the immune system can really not be underestimated. If you find that you are experiencing any emotional unease or that your physical symptoms are affecting your confidence and self-esteem, it is important that you take steps to minimalise the impact of stress on the rest of your body. It can be difficult if you live a busy or active life, but try to set aside some time every day to indulge in an activity that you find enjoyable, whether it’s reading a good book, going on a brisk walk or steeping in a luxurious hot bath. Try to remind yourself that your symptoms will pass and in the meantime just be kind to the person you see staring back at you in the mirror. You could even try giving yoga a go or taking up meditation as both practices promote proper breathing techniques and teach you how to soothe yourself in times of pressure or upheaval
- Good nutrition: Your diet can have an enormous impact on your general health and wellbeing, so it is important that you carefully consider what you put into your body. A diet high in processed fats, refined sugar, alcohol and caffeine will definitely not be doing you any favours when it comes to protecting you against the HPV virus or the physical symptoms of warts. What you really need to give your immune system a much needed boost, is vitamins and plenty of them. Cut out the chocolate and instead snack on fresh fruits such as oranges, blueberries or bananas. These options are high in vitamin A, C and B as well as being a rich source of potassium and other essential minerals like magnesium. This means that they can support the health of your skin cells, strengthen your immune and digestive systems, and hopefully make you less susceptible to catching the HPV virus. Add a portion of vegetables to your evening meal and make sure that you are drinking plenty of water. Caffeinated drinks such as coffee, tea and fizzy beverages will not keep you hydrated and nothing can weaken your immune system quite like dehydration. You should be drinking between 8-10 glasses of plain water a day. Try to cut down on alcoholic drinks as these are high in inflammatory chemicals and can trigger the release of histamine into your immune system
- Avoid indirect contact: If you, or someone you know, suffer from warts then you should try and take precautionary measures to avoid spreading the disease. These measures normally involve using common sense and taking practical steps to minimalise you or someone else’s, contact with the infection. Don’t share your clothing, towels or other personal belongings with anyone else and try to keep all of surfaces clean and tidy. If you have active children, make sure they wear flip-flops when they visit their local swimming pool and try to keep your body clean and dry
- Avoid direct contact: If you know someone who suffers from warts, it might be an idea to avoid prolonged physical contact with them until the virus has run its course. This doesn’t mean that you should actively shun then, just be aware of their situation and make sure you are not placing yourself in a vulnerable position. If there is an outbreak of warts at your child’s school, make sure that they are aware of what is going on and encourage them to treat the problem sensibly, keeping their arms covered and avoiding contact sports
- Aloe vera: Aloe vera is renowned for its beneficial and healing properties, especially when it comes to mild burns. It is a key ingredient of many skin care products, burn remedies and household cleaners; however it can also play a role in relieving the symptoms of your warts. The plant contains natural anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial qualities, and can help to prevent a secondary bacterial infection from occurring. Once diluted, aloe vera extracts can be applied topically to your skin to soothe any swelling and reduce any inflammation
- Manuka honey: Manuka honey is often recommended as a treatment for many common skin conditions, including psoriasis and eczema. This is because it possesses anti-viral properties that can work to support the immune system and keep skin lesions clean Manuka honey is particularly effective as it can even suffocate a potential infection. It does this by forming a barrier along the epidermis, depriving the virus of life-sustaining oxygen and destroying the infection in its tracks. Raw, unprocessed manuka honey works best and you can find a range of manuka honey products at Your Heal Food Store
- Pineapples: A nice source of vitamin C, fresh pineapple isn’t just a healthy fruit to snack on; it can also be used to diminish the external appearance of your warts. This is because the fruit contains enzymes that can work to dissolve your wart and its high levels of acidity can also eat away at the skin lesion, reducing the visibility of your blemish. You can apply this remedy in many different ways – some people prefer to press a fresh slice of pineapple against the affected area, whilst others soak their wart in the sticky juices that come from the fruit. Just be aware, fresh pineapple may sting just a little as you are smearing it over your warts and you may need to reapply this solution several times throughout the day.
Whereas most conventional medicines look at reducing the physical appearance of your warts, our herbal solutions will be focused on targeting the external and internal attributes of your infection, by nourishing your skin and supporting your immune system.
However, if you feel that your warts are still persisting, you should consult your GP for further treatment options.
- Neem cream: The neem plant has been used in herbal medicine for centuries, usually in the treatment of dry or damaged skin. The plant has natural anti-bacterial properties and can soothe brittle skin, keeping it hydrated and easing any dryness. Neem cream is made from extracts of neem leaves and can work to nourish the weakened skin surround your warts, reducing the appearance of any lesions and supporting the overall health of your skin cells. You should be aware though, that this treatment may not be suitable if you suffer from nut allergies, or if you are a pregnant or breastfeeding mother
- Echinaforce®: Echinaforce® is often used in the prevention of viral infections like common cold and is universally praised for the positive impact it can have on the immune system. The formula is made from extracts of Echinacea, a flowering plant often used in herbal medicines and renowned for supporting immune function. This remedy may not focus on the physical symptoms of your condition, but it will work to strengthen your immune system, reducing the risk of you contracting a viral infection.
There are a variety of conventional medicines available that look at reducing the physical appearance of warts; however none of them are invested in trying to treat the internal viral infection.
This can be problematic, as certain procedures and medication might offer you temporary relief from your wart symptoms, but they will not prevent the virus from striking again or stop your warts from reappearing at a later date.
- Topical creams: If you suffer from flat warts, especially if they have manifested on your face, you should take care when using wart remedies on your face and consult your doctor first. These substances can usually be bought over the counter and contain high amounts of salicylic acid, which should work to hydrate your skin and kill the wart, normally causing the blemish to peel away from your epidermis. However, this remedy will do nothing to stop the spread of the HPV virus or to work at diminishing its presence in your immune system
- Salicylic acid: If common wart creams are not doing the trick, your doctor may recommend using salicylic acid. This should remove the warts in a similar fashion to most shop bought alternatives but, due to its higher concentration, it can work more effectively. If you are looking for something that will tackle the HPV virus, however, then you will be disappointed as salicylic acid only combats the physical symptoms of flat warts and will not be useful in treating any internal problems
- Cryotherapy: Cryotherapy refers to the process of exposing your wart to liquid nitrogen. This treatment is usually only offered if other alternative medicines have failed and will not be performed on young children as it can cause pain, discomfort and sometimes blistering. While this option will kill any infected skin cells, it is not a long-term solution to stopping warts as it fails to address the underlying cause, the HPV virus
- Laser Surgery: Laser surgery, similar to cryotherapy, works by destroying the infected skin cells. In the case of laser surgery, this is accomplished by burning the warts away using a concentrated beam of light. This procedure has been known to cause permanent scarring and should only be considered if other medicines and solutions have failed.