Cryotherapy is a cosmetology technique that uses imaging guidance and liquid nitrogen to create intense cold in order to freeze and destroy diseased tissue.
Dermatologists use cryotherapy to treat mainly:
- Viral warts in older children and adults
- Seborrhoeic keratoses
- Actinic keratoses
- Molluscum contagiosum in adults
- Skin tags
The benefits of cryotherapy are:
- Firstly, it is a minimally invasive procedure. Therefore, it causes no to less pain and other side effects.
- Secondly, since a cold liquid or instrument is used to freeze and destroy tissue, there is no burning sensation experienced with some other cosmetic procedures.
- Above all, it is quick, efficient and effective with minimum downtime.
However, cryotherapy should not be done in cases such as:
- Recent injury over the treatment part
- Undiagnosed skin lesions
- Lesion for which tissue pathology is required
- Lesions with compromised blood supply circulation
- Previous sensitivity or adverse reaction to cryosurgery
- Patients who are unable to tolerate side effects
- Unconscious patients
- Dark-skinned patients
- Young children
- Dermatologists recommend that certain areas of the body should be treated with more care, for instance, the corners of eyes, the fold of skin between nose and lip, the skin surrounding nostrils and the skin overlying nerves, e.g. sides of digits, etc.
- If you have a previous history of allergic reaction or infection, you should inform your doctor about it.
- Moreover, prolonged freezing may result in scarring. Therefore dermatologists prefer to freeze lightly first and then ask the patient to return for re-freeze if it’s inadequate.
- Because cryotherapy can leave permanent white marks which may be very unsightly, doctors are especially careful in treating dark-skinned persons.
- Moreover, cryotherapy may sometimes cause nerve damage and as a result cause pain in areas where the nerves lie superficially, such as the sides of fingers.
- The doctor will explain the procedure to you step-by-step and address all your concerns.
- After that, he will take your consent for the procedure.
- Dermatologists advise patients to wear personal protection clothing, such as leather gloves, safety glasses, and covered footwear.
How does the procedure work?
- The doctor will be using sterilised gloves and mask.
- He will apply the liquid nitrogen to the lesion for a few seconds, depending on the required diameter and depth of the freeze.
- In the same vein, the freeze time varies from around five seconds to 10 or 20 seconds, depending on the thickness of the lesion.
- Consequently, dermatologists prefer more than one freeze/thaw cycle for thicker lesions such as seborrheic keratosis and warts.
- For warts, especially plantar warts, they remove superficial keratin by using a scalpel blade or prior keratolytic treatment (eg salicylic acid) may improve the response to cryotherapy following it.
- The treatment area may blister within a few hours (clear, red or purple).
- The blister shrinks and is replaced by a scab within a few days.
- Likewise, the swelling should subside in a few days.
- Moreover, healing depends on the site of the treatment area. The scab falls off within a week when cryotherapy is done on areas like the fingers; on the other hand, it falls off within three weeks and takes longer to heal when the lower leg is involved.
- At times, you may observe a white mark (hypopigmentation) or scar on the treatment area.
Complications and side-effects
Immediately, you may experience some:
- Minor bleeding
- Headache after treatment of facial lesions
After a few hours to a few days, some patients observe:
- Bleeding at the frozen site
- Infection at the site
- Skin discomfort
- Hyperpigmentation, but it is temporary
Lastly, in rare cases, the following complications can occur:
- Altered sensation because of damage to nerves in the treatment area
- Hypertrophic scarring
- Hair loss over the treatment area