There are various manifestations of the skin condition keratosis: actinic, seborraheic, pilaris and hydrocarbon keratosis. It is the latter condition which will be dealt with in this article. Also known as pitch or tar keratosis or ‘tar warts’, it is a precancerous keratotic skin lesion. It occurs in persons, who have been exposed, through their occupations, to ‘polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons’ (PAHs) which only occur in coal and tar deposits, i.e. the products of fuel burning.
PAHs are chemicals which form as a result of the incomplete burning of coal, oil, gas, wood, garbage and other organic substances including tobacco. They are also manufactured and used in medicines, to make dyes, plastics and pesticides. High levels of PAHs are also found in meat cooked at high temperatures, e.g. grilling or barbecuing, also in smoked fish. Persons who are at a high risk of exposure to deadly amounts of PAHs include those who work in tar distillation, shale extraction, roofers, asphalt and highway maintenance workers who are exposed to PAHs from the constant inhalation of fumes.
The lesions caused by hydrocarbon keratosis are similar to the other types in appearance, i.e. thickening of the skin, lumping and wart-like growths. Treatments vary if the condition remains as simple keratosis: medicated creams and lotions, cryosurgery, which involves the use of liquid nitrogen to ‘freeze’ the affected area, making it easier for the lesions to be sloughed off. One of the benefits of cryosurgery is that it costs less, which in this recession is an important factor, it injures less (less bleeding involved) and leaves much less scarring. A cautionary note here, as with all things, it is not a perfect method as cryosurgery could affect nearby healthy tissue as well as cause damage to nerve tissues. Another option for treatment is laser surgery which works by essentially burning out the damaged tissues causing keratosis. Electrocautery is yet another option which involves burning the lesions with the use of electricity. For treatment of precancerous growths such as those produced by hydrocarbon keratosis, the best option is traditional surgery which involves the use of a scalpel to remove the wart-like lesions which are symptoms of the condition. If you choose to pursue surgery, do not worry, it is a relatively simple procedure, done out-patient with few side effects. If the symptoms appear on the face, a cosmetic surgeon is recommended. Stay out of the sun after doing the procedure.
This form of keratosis is not harmless, as there is a significant risk of it evolving into skin cancer and must be taken seriously. If you are one of the vulnerable, check with a doctor as soon as possible and take the necessary steps.
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