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Cryotherapy for Warts

Surgery Overview

Cryotherapy involves freezing a wart using a very cold substance (usually liquid nitrogen). Cryotherapy is a standard treatment for warts and can be done in a doctor's office. The liquid nitrogen application usually takes less than a minute.

  • Your doctor may trim the wart with a small knife before applying liquid nitrogen.
  • Cryotherapy is painful. A numbing local anesthetic is usually not needed but may be used in some cases.
  • Your doctor applies the liquid nitrogen to the wart using a probe or a cotton swab. Liquid nitrogen can also be sprayed directly on the wart.

Most warts require 1 to 4 treatments, with 1 to 3 weeks between each treatment.

Cryotherapy can also be done at home using an over-the-counter product such as Compound W Freeze Off. These home cryotherapy kits use a mixture of dimethyl ether and propane rather than liquid nitrogen. This mixture is used to soak a foam applicator that is then applied to the wart. This product may be safe for warts on the hands or feet but not for genital warts. Follow all instructions carefully to avoid serious burns and permanent scarring.

What To Expect After Surgery

Pain from cryotherapy can last up to 3 days. Healing is generally quick (7 to 14 days) with little or no scarring.

Within hours after treatment, a blister may form.

  • If the blister breaks, clean the area to prevent the spread of the wart virus. Avoid contact with the fluid, which may contain the wart virus.
  • The blister will dry up over the next few days, and the wart may fall off.

Multiple treatments may be needed to get rid of the wart.

Why It Is Done

Cryotherapy is usually used if salicylic acid treatment has not eliminated a wart or if quick treatment is desired.

How Well It Works

Cryotherapy can destroy warts. It gets rid of warts about half of the time.1

Risks

If done carefully, cryotherapy poses little risk of scarring.

If a wart is thick and requires extensive or repeated freezing, nerves around the wart can be damaged, scarring may occur, and the skin may take a long time to recover.

There is a small chance of infection associated with cryotherapy. Some signs of infection include:

  • Increased pain, swelling, redness, tenderness, or heat.
  • Red streaks extending from the area.
  • Discharge of pus.
  • Fever of 100°F (38°C) or higher with no other cause.

What To Think About

If you can tolerate moderate, short-term pain, cryotherapy may be a reasonable treatment option for you.

Cryotherapy:

  • Can be painful and expensive but usually does not scar.
  • Is most painful where the skin is thicker (palms and soles).
  • Often takes multiple treatments, especially for thick, larger warts.
  • Is quick and can be done in a doctor's office or at home.

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References

Citations

  1. Habif TP, et al. (2011). Herpes simplex section of Viral infections. In Skin Disease: Diagnosis and Treatment, 3rd ed., pp. 224–229. Edinburgh: Saunders.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Patrice Burgess, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Last Revised September 7, 2012

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