Warts can occur on any part of the body, and while they can sometimes go away on their own, it can take years for that to happen. In addition to making you self-conscious about their appearance, warts that aren’t removed can spread to other parts of your body. Removing them will lower the risk of them spreading, and one way to do that is through cryotherapy.
“Cryotherapy has become a very popular way to treat warts,” says Jana Atkins, a physician assistant-certified at U.S. Dermatology Partners Keller in Fort Worth, Texas. “It’s particularly effective for fair-skinned people and for adults, and it has a lot of advantages over other forms of treatment.”
Warts are actually an infection of the top layer of skin, and they're caused by the human papillomavirus, or HPV, which can be spread through many different means. In fact, there’s a risk of coming in contact with the virus just from shaking hands, by grabbing a door handle or even through sharing a keyboard with a coworker.
“It’s virtually impossible to prevent yourself from being exposed to warts, but you’re more likely to get them if your skin gets damaged or cut after coming in contact with the virus,” Atkins says. “But some individuals just appear to be more likely to fight off warts, while others are going to get them more frequently.”
People who bite their nails, those who have a weakened immune system, children and teens are at a greater risk for developing warts.
What Is Cryotherapy?
In recent years, cryotherapy has become a popular way of removing warts and it is particularly popular for people who have warts on their faces.
“Because it is the type of wart removal that’s least likely to leave a scar, many people who need warts removed from their face will choose cryotherapy,” Atkins says. “However, it’s important to know that it can cause you to permanently lose hair in the area where the treatment is performed, so that might factor into your decision.”
Cryotherapy, which is also called cryosurgery, is an easy, effective and non-invasive procedure that’s especially good for things like warts and skin tags. It uses liquid nitrogen to freeze and destroy these growths, and since they are destroyed at the cellular level, they can’t grow back.
Some of the advantages of cryotherapy include:
- It typically takes just one or two treatments to completely destroy the wart.
- There’s minimal discomfort involved.
- It’s completely safe.
- It's affordable.
Most people are good candidates for cryotherapy to remove warts, although it’s not advised for children who have a difficult time sitting still.
What Happens During Cryotherapy?
Cryotherapy can be done fairly quickly in your practitioner’s office. You may be given salicylic acid to apply to the area in the days before the procedure to help prepare the area. Salicylic acid will help reduce the size of the wart to make the cryotherapy treatment more effective.
Before administering the cryotherapy, your doctor may use a scalpel to shave off some of the tissue that has already been destroyed by the salicylic acid.
If the area being treated is small, your practitioner will probably use a small piece of foam or a cotton swab to apply liquid nitrogen to the wart. For larger areas, he or she will use a tool to spray the nitrogen onto the affected area.
The nitrogen freezes the skin tissue quickly, and then as it thaws, the cells infected with the wart will die. It may sting slightly, but it will most likely feel very cold and then go numb.
Typically, you’ll only need one treatment to get rid of small to mid-size warts, although if you have large warts, it might take additional treatments. If you do require more than one treatment, the next appointment will be scheduled two or three weeks later.
Healing After Cryotherapy
Once your wart has been frozen through cryotherapy, that tissue will blister and scab over during the next few days. Your body will work to heal and repair itself, and you will probably want to keep the scab covered to prevent it from being irritated or getting reopened. (Be careful not to scratch it even if it itches while it heals.)
Other than making sure your scab is protected and doesn’t get infected, you’ll be able to resume all of your normal daily activities — including showering and bathing — right away. However, if the area becomes red or swollen, contact your doctor, as that may be the sign of an infection.
Other Options for Treating Warts
While cryotherapy is considered the fastest and one of the most effective treatments for warts, it’s certainly not the only one. Some other methods of wart removal are:
- Cantharidin – This is a chemical that your doctor will “paint” onto your warts; the chemical causes the skin under the wart to blister, which lifts the wart off the skin, and after the blister dries, the wart falls off.
- Electrosurgery – To perform electrosurgery, your doctor burns the skin containing the wart by sending an electric charge through a needle or probe. This dries and burns off the wart tissue, although it often leaves a scar and requires an injection for a local anesthetic before treatment.
- Curettage – Using a scalpel, your doctor will surgically scrape or cut the wart off the skin. This method requires a local anesthetic and can cause scarring.
- Excision – This involves the doctor cutting the wart out of the skin.
- Laser surgery – Laser treatment is not usually the first recommended procedure, but when warts are hard to treat and have not responded to other treatments, it can be an option. Before using an intense laser of light to burn the wart tissue, you’ll be given an anesthetic injection.
Although you have different options when it comes to wart removal, you want to make sure that you choose the procedure that’s right for you. In many cases, cryotherapy is the best way to treat warts, due to the fact that it offers a fast, effective, relatively inexpensive and non-invasive solution. To learn if cryotherapy is right for you, schedule an appointment with one of our board-certified dermatologists today.