Definition and Overview
Wart freezing is also called cryosurgery or cryotherapy. It involves using gas such as liquid nitrogen to freeze and destroy the warts before they are ablated from the skin.
Warts are some of the most common skin conditions affecting Americans. They are characterized by their small rough texture caused by the fast buildup of keratin, a type of hard protein found on top of the skin, as it's activated by the virus, specifically the human papilloma virus. The specific strain is different from the one that leads to cervical cancer.
They can appear in many parts of the body and may have other distinct characteristics depending on their type. Those that grow on the hands and feet are often called common warts. If they are particularly found on the feet, such as the toes and the heel, they are called the plantar warts. Those that develop normally on the armpits and eyelids are filiform warts.
Since they caused by a virus, warts can easily spread. A person may contract the virus by using an object that is used by a person with warts or touching a surface where the virus is still active.
Who should undergo and expected results
Sometimes warts can go away by themselves, but they can also grow in numbers as the virus is transmitted to other parts of the body. They may also be hard to control if the person has compromised immune system.
A person whose warts are bleeding, soring, oozing with some discharge, or changing appearance must consult a doctor immediately.
Cryotherapy is a common or standard wart treatment, but it can also be painful, and the pain may last for a couple of days. Further, depending on the location, size, and condition of the wart, it may take as many as 4 sessions, each one at least 2 weeks apart to allow for skin healing.
How the procedure works
The process is usually outpatient and carried out in either a hospital or a clinic. The trained technician first cleanses the skin and applies a numbing agent or local anesthesia to minimize pain and discomfort.
Cryotherapy uses a probe, a wand-like device that delivers the gas that causes freezing. The gas, on the other hand, comes from a machine. Since the warts are just on the surface of the skin, the gas may be delivered through a spray or a cotton swab. The applicator or the probe then freezes the warts before they are removed using surgical tools.
In some cases, it may be necessary to remove a part of the warts before cryotherapy begins.
Possible risks and complications
The risks involving warts freezing are minimal, especially since the procedure itself is non-invasive. But perhaps the biggest concern is affecting the healthy tissues. Once tissues, whether healthy or not, are exposed to extremely cold temperatures, they die.
Further, like any other surgery, there's the possibility of bleeding and infection. Medications may be provided to reduce the risk as well as to control the pain.
Habif TP. Warts, herpes simplex, and other viral infections. In: Habif TP, ed. Clinical Dermatology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Mosby Elsevier Mosby; 2009:chap 12.
Mulhem E, Pinelis S. Treatment of nongenital cutaneous warts. Am Fam Physician. 2011;84:288-293.