An introduction to verrucas
Verrucas, also known as plantar warts, are a common type of wart that often appear on the soles of your feet and are closely associated with children and young adults, due to their contagious nature and the ideal conditions that they require to spread.
In fact, it is estimated that 5-10% of children will contract warts while 15-20% of 16-18 year olds also suffer from the condition.1 It is possible that the vast majority of these outbreaks are related to verrucas, as most children, especially if they are active socially and physically, tend to attract the virus as some point in their lives.
Fortunately, verrucas are generally considered to be benign, although their position on the feet can cause discomfort and sometimes pain, as the weight of your body is often pressed on this area, irritating the wart and agitating any existing symptoms.
The causes of verrucas
Verrucas are a staple part of most children’s youth, especially if they are encouraged to swim or exercise regularly. This is why so many parents are concerned about their children catching the virus and urge that they wear flip-flops and try to take preventative measures.
However, it isn’t just children that are at risk of contracting verrucas – many adults with a weakened immune system are also vulnerable and should be aware of the triggers and causes of the viral infection, and how it can be spread.
- HPV virus: HPV, or the Human Papilloma Virus, can occur in those with a weakened or immature immune system and often cause skin afflictions like warts by stimulating an overproduction of the tough protein keratin. In an episode of verrucas, the keratinocytes in your feet produce too much keratin, forcing the protein to form a hard, rough lump on the surface of your skin. There are over 60 strains of HPV, and some can even cause cervical cancer, which is why young, adolescent girls are now inoculated against these specific strains. However, while this is intended to protect them from developing cancer, it will not guard them against verrucas as the HPV strains responsible for warts are not connected to the variants that trigger cervical cancer. The feet are also an area of the body that frequently comes into close contact with pathogens and viruses, particularly if you are an active person that enjoys a lot of physical activity. This is why veruccas are so common in athletes and swimmers – they are providing the virus with the correct conditions to spread and multiply
- Weak immune system: If you ever visited your local swimming pool as a child, the chances are that you were repeated warned against running around in bare feet in case you attracted the virus. HPV is easily contracted by young children, because their immune systems are still developing and are not strong enough to ward off the infection. An immature immune system can easily be overwhelmed by the HPV virus, as the disease can confuse the body and is not easily recognised by the immune cells. Although it is possible to build up an immunity against verrucas, this normally requires an efficient and healthy immune system. When adults pick up verrucas, it is normally as a result of direct or indirect contact, or because they suffer from a health condition that weakens their immune system, like HIV or hypothyroidism, making them more vulnerable to infections and unable to defend against disease. It’s important therefore, that children take precautionary measures, like wearing flip-flops and properly drying their feet, and that adults work at strengthening their immune system and supporting their immune cells
- Poor nutrition: When it comes to maintaining your immune system, your diet can play an important and influential role. It has already been mentioned that teenagers are susceptible to the HPV virus but, considering the lack of care most young adults take in regards to getting enough proper nutrients into their diet, this is unsurprising. A diet high in caffeine, alcohol and processed fats, can place an enormous amount of pressure on the immune system, even affecting your liver function and digestion. This is because these foods contain plentiful amounts of inflammatory chemicals which will motivate your immune system to try and produce more histamine, eventually exhausting your immune cells, making them more sluggish and considerably less effective at protecting your body against viral infection
- Stress: The experience of having verrucas itself might not be that alarming or worrying. Unlike other forms of warts, verrucas develop in an area of the body that is usually concealed, thereby diminishing some of the stress associated with having a visible skin condition. However, if you already suffer from anxiety or stress, it can have an impact on your verruca symptoms and affect your chances of contracting the HPV virus. This is because stress and your emotional health can place a huge strain on your immune system, triggering the release of inflammatory chemicals and redirecting the flow of nutrients from critical parts of the body, like your skin, to your major organs. Emotional distress can even upset your digestive system, causing constipation and inhibiting the liver from detoxifying your body, forcing other organs, including your skin, to take over the duty. This can account for your skin becoming weaker, allowing the HPV virus to permeate your epidermis and stimulate an episode of warts
- Direct contact: One of the most common ways of catching the HPV virus is through direct contact with an affected party. This is definitely the case when it comes to the spread of the disease amongst children, particularly if they enjoy swimming or playing contact sports. A child with verrucas might attend school regularly and as normal, without taking preventative measures, and soon a good portion of his or hers class will be carrying the virus home with them to their parents. Taking proper precautions is essential, which is why treatment should begin as soon as possible to avoid contaminating other people with the disease and having it spread further afield
- Indirect contact: If you’re someone who enjoys keeping active by swimming or visiting your local gym, then you are frequenting an environment with the ideal conditions for the HPV virus. Research has uncovered that the HPV virus can live on inanimate objects, like the surface of a floor or a towel. The changing rooms in most gyms and swimming pools are damp, humid places, allowing the disease to spread, especially if you are sharing your towels with another person. Children are again the worst culprits for this as they often exchange towels and clothing with their friends and don’t seem overly fond of wearing flip-flops. All it takes is for one child to catch the virus and soon it will be multiplying in their household, and later their school.
The symptoms of verrucas
The symptoms of verrucas are generally well known and easy to distinguish; however, it is important to understand why your symptoms occur and what you can do to relieve any pain or discomfort.
- Skin discolouration: As far as appearances go, most verrucas are visibly discoloured and pale, with some even darkening in colour. The large bump of rough skin usually appears greyish to the naked eye, but can sometimes be marked by a single dark dot, a sign of clotted blood vessels
- Rough skin: When keratin, a tough protein, starts to form on the outer layer of skin, it can cause the epidermis to harden, with a raised bump of rough skin appearing. Your skin will be visibly dryer and might even start to flake a little around the affected area, which is why moisturisers and essential oils are often recommended to treat this symptom
- Clotted blood vessels: A clotted blood vessel occurs when the tiny blood vessels, which carry nutrients throughout your body, rupture and allow blood plasma to seep into the surrounding tissues. In episodes of warts, this can occur frequently as often there is a blood vessel responsible for supplying your wart with nutrients. When this vessel becomes weakened and blood permeates the skin tissues, it can manifest as a small, dark dot in the centre of the verruca
- Stress: Stress, in relation to a verruca, is not as common a symptom as you might think. Warts that appear in highly visible areas of the body are often a cause for alarm and distress, but verrucas, which appear on the feet, can easily be concealed. Most of the stress surrounding verrucas is usually related to their contagious nature. If you are carrying a transmittable disease it is can affect how you view yourself and how you interact with other people, especially if you enjoy socialising or have children.
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The commonplace nature of verrucas means that there are a wide variety of home treatments waiting to be explored. However, should any of the following solutions worsen your symptoms or cause them to persist, then please speak to your doctor as soon as possible.
- Relax: The unfortunate repercussions of stress on the immune system have already been discussed at length, so you should be aware of how stress can impact your verruca symptoms and make you more vulnerable to the HPV virus. Relaxation then, is key. You should be trying to focus on support your immune system and the best way you can do this is by keeping calm and finding ways to cope with any additional anxiety or low moods. Try to unwind by getting involved in activities that interest you or by simply splurging on the couch with a good book. Some forms of exercise, like yoga or meditation, promote relaxation and proper breath techniques, which you can then use to soothe your body when you feel your mind becoming agitated or upset
- Good nutrition: Poor nutrition can cripple your immune system and make you more susceptible to catching the HPV virus responsible for outbreaks of verrucas. If you want to increase your chances of avoiding the infection and give your immune system a boost, the best thing you can do is cut back on alcohol, caffeine and refined sugars and increase your intake of foods rich in anti-oxidants, minerals and vitamins. Your diet should include a good portion of green vegetables, fresh fruits, wholemeal carbohydrates and omega 3 oily fish. All of these foods contain ample amounts of essential nutrients, like vitamins A, B C, D and E, and other minerals like magnesium and zinc. These can work to improve your blood circulation, strengthen your skin cells and aid your digestion, making your immune system stronger and less vulnerable to viral infections. Try to drink plenty of plain water as well – dehydration can be terrible for your immune system as well as your overall health and wellbeing. Ditch the fizzy drinks and make sure you’re getting a good intake of water each day
- Avoid direct and indirect contact: Prevention is often considered to be the best cure for any disease, and this is especially true when it comes to verrucas. Given how commonplace the virus is amongst children, they are often the main carriers, particularly since most young children enjoy running around in bare feet and are sometimes more active than their adult counterparts. This means that verrucas do appear quite frequently after trips to the swimming pool or days out at the leisure centre. You should try to minimise the risks associated with these places by making your child wear flip-flops in the changing facilities and especially the showers. Insist that they do not share their towels with any of their friends and make sure that they dry their feet thoroughly. Small steps like these can make a big difference when it comes to preventing an outbreak of verrucas
- Thuja ointment: Thuja is type of evergreen found in North America and has often been used in the treatment of viral infections, such as the common cold or the flu. It is thought that thuja extracts can also be used beneficially as a solution to warts. Your Health Food Store stock a variety of thuja based ointments, which can be applied topically but may not be suitable for pregnant or breastfeeding women
- Apple cider vinegar: Apple cider vinegar is a staple of many home remedies, especially when it comes to supporting the immune system or treating a skin condition. The high acidity levels in the vinegar mean that it can attack the physical wart when applied topically, allowing the verruca to diminish or peel away from the skin. This can cause some discolouration in your verruca at first, but this is nothing to be alarmed about; your verruca should change colour before it finally peels away from your skin. You can even try taking the vinegar internally as well to boost your immune system for an extra kick. A range of apple cider vinegar products are stocked at Your Health Food Store, if you are curious about this solution
- Tea tree oil: Tea tree oil is highly regarded due to its anti-sceptic and anti-inflammatory products, making it a popular ingredient in many skin care products and household cleaning agents. The oil also contains a secret weapon that can make it very useful in the treatment of verrucas – Terpinen-4.2 Terpinen-4 is an anti-microbial compound capable of fighting the HPV virus strains causing the growth of verrucas, attacking the root of the problem rather than the physical symptoms. You will have to apply this remedy regularly and should always dilute with a little water first before applying directly to the verruca. Then cover the area with a plaster or bandage and leave for a decent amount of time, or even overnight. Keep doing this regularly and it should start to diminish the appearance of your verruca until the wart peels away from your skin
- Banana peel: Not unlike tea tree oil, the humble banana peel also contains a compound that works to destroy verrucas. All you will require for this remedy is a banana skin and a small teaspoon to scrape the remnants of any banana away from the peel. Apply this to your verruca regularly, leaving on for at least a couple of minutes at a time. You should notice a difference in the appearance of your verruca within a few days. Continue to apply this method until your verruca is completely gone.
There are a range of herbal remedies that might be beneficial when it comes to tackling the specific symptoms of warts. There are solutions that can boost your immune system, ease the physical verruca wart and support your emotional wellbeing. However, should you notice any adverse side-effect from any of these treatments, please consult your GP immediately.
- Neem cream: Neem is a plant with a long history of being used in herbal medicine, often as a treatment for agitated or damaged skin. Neem Cream is made from extracts of neem leaves and can be used to soothe and nourish dry skin, reducing the appearance of warts. Just be aware that neem cream should not be used by pregnant or breastfeeding women due to its high content of essential oils
- Echinaforce®: Echinaforce® is often recommended to treat viral infections such as the common cold or flu, because it helps to strengthen the immune system. Our Echinaforce is made using fresh, organic extracts of Echinacea, a plant with a long and colourful history when it comes to herbal medicine. Although the remedy is not specifically recommended for verrucas, it can work to maintain the health of your immune system, strengthening your immune cells and making you less susceptible to viruses.
There are different types of conventional medicines that may be recommended to you, by your doctor, for the treatment of verrucas.
Below is a small list of the most common types of conventional treatments that might be advocated to you, however you should be aware that most of these solutions can stimulate a range of unpleasant side-effects and will not look at combatting the HPV virus itself.
- Topical creams: Topical creams usually contain high amounts of salicylic acid and can be bought over the counter at any leading pharmacy or supermarket. These gels and solutions can reduce verrucas but often do not combat the root of the issue – the HPV virus. Instead they work on treating the external, visible symptoms of a verruca, which may diminish the appearance of the wart but it will not do anything to prevent them from coming back
- Salicylic acid: Salicylic acid usually has to be recommended by a doctor and is more concentrated than the amounts found in over the counter creams like Bazuka. Similar to its diluted counterpart though, salicylic acid is mainly concentrated on the external symptoms rather than the internal virus and works to moisturise the skin, making it easier to shed dead skin cells. This might reduce the appearance of verrucas but it will not offer any long-term relief
- Cryotherapy: Cryotherapy might be considered by your doctor if your verrucas have persisted for a substantial period of time. The process involves liquid nitrogen being applied to your verruca, killing the infected skin cells and removing the actual wart itself. However, this process can be painful and cause a variety of side-effects, such as blistering. One round of cryotherapy may not be enough to get rid of your verruca so multiple procedures may have to be undertaken in order to banish your verrucas.