DEAR MAYO CLINIC: Is it safe to treat warts with duct tape? The over-the-counter treatments we've tried have not worked for my daughter.
ANSWER: Although it may sound a little odd, research has shown that covering a wart with duct tape can be a safe and often effective way to get rid of the growth. But warts can be stubborn, so if duct tape or other nonprescription treatments do not work, you may want to consider taking your daughter to see a dermatologist.
HPV. HPV is very common; people are exposed to it frequently. There are more than 100 types of this virus, which is why there are so many different kinds of warts. Some strains of HPV are acquired through sexual contact. Most forms, however, are instead spread by casual contact or indirectly through objects that are shared, such as towels or washcloths.
Over time, people develop immunity to most types of HPV that cause common warts. That means their bodies are no longer affected by the virus, and it can't take hold and grow. But it takes a long time for that to happen. As a result, warts are widespread in children and young adults because their bodies have not had enough time to become immune to this common virus.
As a wart begins to grow, HPV stimulates the skin to generate a dedicated blood supply for the wart. That makes the wart very hearty and less likely to go away on its own. If left untreated, most warts will persist for one to two years.
Fortunately, most warts do go away eventually. If a wart does not go away over a long period of time, it should be evaluated by a physician because it may be something other than a wart. Of course, even though they do resolve on their own, many people still want to get rid of warts as soon as possible because of their unpleasant appearance and frequent local discomfort. In addition, warts often spread to other places on the body, as well as to other people, particularly in children.
Over-the-counter remedies, such as salicylic acid, are available to treat warts. But duct tape is another alternative. Simply cover the wart with a piece of the tape. Leave it on for about six and a half days. Then remove the tape and leave the wart exposed overnight. In the morning, put another piece of duct tape over the wart. Continue that process until the wart is gone. If the tape falls off, just apply a new piece.
Over several weeks' time, a large percentage of warts disappear using this method. Researchers are not exactly sure why it works. One factor seems to be that keeping the wart covered protects it from friction. Warts usually spread via friction, so if it is covered, the wart is unable to spread. Another theory is that exposing the skin to the glue on the tape triggers a low-grade irritation reaction to the glue. When the body's immune system responds to that reaction by attacking the glue, the wart is destroyed in the process.
If there is no improvement after using over-the-counter remedies or duct tape for several weeks, a dermatologist can offer additional options for treating warts. Those options include prescription antiviral creams, prescription topical therapies that irritate and eliminate warts, and medications that stimulate the immune system or disrupt the wart's skin cell growth. Rarely, stubborn warts may require minor surgery to cut away the wart tissue or laser surgery to remove the wart. -- Dawn Davis, M.D., Dermatology, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.
(Medical Edge from Mayo Clinic is an educational resource and doesn't replace regular medical care. E-mail a question to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit http://www.mayoclinic.org.)
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Duct tape can be safe, effective way to get rid of warts
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