Liquid nitrogen treatment is also known as cryotherapy or cryosurgery. This method involves spraying the liquid directly onto a skin growth or dabbing it on using a cotton swab. Since this particular chemical has a temperature of roughly -328 degrees F (-200 C), it instantly freezes anything that it comes in contact with. In the case of skin growths, this includes the growth itself and some small area surrounding it.
As with any contact involving extreme temperatures, the result is a burning of the affected tissue. This “burn” will cause a blister to form. This treatment is desirable for certain kinds of non-cancerous skin growths because it is quick and relatively painless and is far less invasive than excision or dermabrasion. The treatment can usually be performed in the office and requires no extensive post-treatment care, making it extremely convenient.
How does cryotherapy work and are there side effects?
Liquid nitrogen is used to freeze and destroy abnormal skin tissues. This can include warts, moles, skin tags, sun spots and nodules as well as actinic keratoses and other pre-cancerous growths. It can also be used to treat tumors inside the body but is a far more common treatment for external skin growths.
The treatment causes a stinging and burning pain while the growth is being frozen and this burning continues while it thaws. The area that was treated will become red and swollen and in 3 to 6 hours a blister with a scab will form. The blister may bleed a little and it may turn purple or black, all of which is a perfectly normal part of the healing process. Within 1-2 weeks, the scab will fall off by itself, and the skin growth will come off with it, leaving healthy new skin.
If your growth requires deep freezing, there may be considerable blistering, discomfort and swelling, especially if your hands or eyelids were treated. The blisters and swelling are part of the treatment and will gradually heal by themselves. If the pain is too much for you, you can take a standard pain reliever such as Tylenol or Aspirin to relieve it.
What are the possible after effects of liquid nitrogen treatment?
The most obvious after effect is the presence of a blister. You should never try to remove the blister yourself as this could leave you open to the possibility of infection. This means you should avoid rubbing the blister or getting it wet for 24 hours after treatment.
Avoid taking long baths, washing the dishes (if the treatment was applied to your hands) or swimming for at least a day after treatment. After the blister falls off or breaks on its own, you will have a small sore. Apply Polysporin ointment one – two times a day to the sore and cover it with a Band-Aid. You can then wash your skin as usual and use make-up or other cosmetics.
While the blister is present and after it falls off, you should be careful to cover the area with sunscreen to avoid exposure to the sun’s UV rays and allow for proper healing. Liquid nitrogen treatment often leaves a permanent, white scar which is usually flat. Sometimes treatment fails.
If you start to experience the signs of an infection, such as fever, swelling, tenderness and oozing from the site, you should notify your doctor immediately. If the growth is not cured by liquid nitrogen, please make a return appointment, as the growth may be an early skin cancer and may require surgery.
Does it have to be performed at the dermatologist’s office?
Although it is always advisable to have any skin procedure performed at your doctor’s office, there are over the counter treatments available, some of which can be effective for certain less severe skin conditions.
Rather than liquid nitrogen most of these products contain tetrafluoroethane or dimethylether and propane (DMEP), that operate at less cold temperatures, but still have been shown to work on moles, warts, skin tags and other growths.
If you do decide to try one of these treatments out, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor first just to make sure the product is safe and won’t cause any additional damage.