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Why warts shouldn’t be embarrassing

If you were to ask your friends for a show of hands as to who has had a wart or verruca in the past, chances are you’d be able to hear the tumbleweed roll by as they all stayed resoundingly silent. A skin problem that not many would confess to, they’re actually a lot more common than people think.

According to Dr Anita Sturnham, GP, Get The Gloss and Dove DermaSeries Expert, “Most people develop one or more warts at some time in their life, usually before the age of 20.” She adds, “About 1 in 10 people in the UK has warts at any one time. They are not usually harmful.”

So which products actually work should you wish to get rid of them? We asked Dr Sturnham for her expertise in identifying and treating them and to shed the spotlight on this embarrassing topic so that we can learn how to remove them once and for all. Here’s what we learnt...

GTG: What causes warts?

AS: Warts are small rough lumps on the skin. They are caused by a virus (human papillomavirus) which causes a reaction in the skin. Warts can occur anywhere on the body but occur most commonly on hands and feet.

They range in size from 1 mm to over 1 cm. Sometimes only one or two warts develop. Sometimes several warts may occur in the same area of skin. The shape and size of warts can vary and they are sometimes classed by how they look. For example: common warts, plane (flat) warts, filiform (finger-like) warts etc.

GTG: How do they differ from verrucas?

AS: Verrucas are warts that occur on the soles of the feet. They are the same as warts on any other part of the body. However, they may look flatter, as they tend to get trodden in.

Anal and genital warts are caused by a different strain of HPV than those that cause warts on the hand and feet.

GTG: Are they contagious?

AS: Warts are very contagious and can be passed on by close skin-to-skin contact.

The infection can also be transmitted indirectly from contaminated objects or surfaces, such as the area surrounding a swimming pool.

After becoming infected, it can take weeks or even months for a wart or verruca to appear. Like the cold sore virus, not everyone with the HPV virus will get visible warts. However, unlike the cold sore virus, this virus is not with you for life and will eventually leave the body as it is cleared by the immune system.

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GTG: How do you know if you’ve got a wart?

AS: Most types of warts are easy to identify because they have a distinctive appearance. If you notice a growth on your skin that you are worried about, it is always good to have this checked by your GP. Your GP will be able to tell if it's a wart simply by looking at it. Where it is on your body and how it affects surrounding skin will also be taken into consideration.

You should also visit your GP if you have a wart that:

1. Is painful or embarrassing,

2. Changes suddenly in size, shape or colour,

3. Spreads.

GTG: How can you get rid of them?

AS: Most warts are harmless and clear up without treatment.

The length of time it takes a wart to disappear will vary from person to person. It may take up to two years for the viral infection to leave your system and for the wart to disappear.

You might decide to treat your wart if it is painful, or in an area that is causing discomfort or embarrassment.

Common methods of treatment include:

- Salicylic acid,

- Cryotherapy (freezing the skin cells),

- Duct tape,

- Chemical treatments.

Treatment for warts is not always completely effective, and a wart will sometimes return following treatment.

Topical treatments like Warticon can be prescribed by a GP for body warts, and verrucas can be treated with over-the-counter topical treatments containing salicylic acid such as Bazuka, £5.99. Never try to remove a skin wart yourself without seeing a GP first.

Surgery is not usually recommended for warts but sometimes we use surgical methods such as hyfrecation or curettage to remove them instead.

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