Although skin tags are benign growths that, unlike moles, do not develop into skin cancer, there are some medical reasons to be concerned about them. The fact that skin tags are correlated to the presence of several underlying medical conditions, is a cause for concern, especially since some conditions associated with skin tags go undiagnosed. These conditions can severely impact your health and quality of life. Skin tags may lead to other issues, particularly following purposeful or accidental removal of a skin tag. Knowing the possible underlying conditions and how to properly care for skin tags can help you regulate your health and avoid potentially serious complications. Skin tags themselves are not harmful and problems resulting from having them or removing them are avoidable.
Skin Tags and Metabolic Disorders
The presence of some skin tags is normal, especially as the body ages. Skin tags tend to form mostly during middle age and may continue to appear during the senior years. Many people of all ages have skin tags, and it is estimated that at least half of all adults will develop some skin tags during their lives. However, the presence of many skin tags is something that doctors consider a warning sign for metabolic conditions such as type 2 diabetes, related conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome, or underactive thyroid.
It is not known why these conditions might be related to higher than normal numbers of skin tags. It is also not known whether these conditions cause skin tags to form or whether they are simply associated with a high number of skin tags. It is possible that certain hormones, chemicals or other substances in the body that are affected by diabetes or other medical conditions may have an effect on the number of skin tags a person develops. However, what is known is that there is a relationship between high numbers of skin tags and these medical conditions.
Although the skin tags themselves are harmless, high numbers of them can indicate that an undiagnosed medical condition like diabetes is present. A visit to a doctor can determine whether or not diabetes or another condition is present. In the case of a condition such as diabetes, it is particularly vital to determine whether or not a person has the disease, since it can lead to a host of other medical problems and even death if left untreated. Although there is no cure for diabetes, regulating it can greatly improve a person’s overall health, and visiting a doctor for advice on lifestyle changes to manage it may lead to a decreased need for medication.
Skin Tags and HPV
Another condition that is related to skin tags are certain strains of human papillomavirus. Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a virus that is responsible for warts. Some strains of it may cause anal or genital warts. Strains 6 and 11 of HPV, the strains that are thought to be related to skin tags, can cause a host of different problems. Strains 6 and 11 can cause anal and genital warts and papillomas (a benign type of tumor that appears on the skin). In rare cases the virus may cause laryngeal papillomatosis, which is an infection of the throat that occurs when the virus forms benign tumors on the larynx. The tumors that cause laryngeal papillomatosis may reoccur even after surgical removal, and the condition may require repeated surgeries, since the tumors can interfere with breathing and swallowing.
HPV is particularly problematic since not everyone who carries the virus shows symptoms. A person infected with the virus who does not have genital warts may pass it to sexual partners, potentially infecting them. Genital warts, the warts caused by HPV strains 6 and 11, can be itchy and sometimes bleed. Outbreaks of the virus can be controlled with certain medications, which may reduce its ability to spread to other people. Awareness of your sexual health and any viruses you may carry is important to the continued health of your sexual partners. Using protection during sex may prevent you from infecting your partners.
Skin Tags and Skin Infections
One complication that can be caused by skin tags occurs when the skin tag is cut or torn. This can happen when the skin tag interferes with shaving or when it gets caught in jewelry or clothing. At times, the skin tag may be cut by razors used in shaving or may be torn off when it is caught in a necklace or other piece of jewelry. Some skin tags that are more pendulous than others may be more susceptible to cutting or being ripped off by razors, jewelry or clothing. When the skin tag is torn or cut, it may be susceptible to infection. Severe skin infections following cuts or other injuries are rare, but they do occur, particularly in people with compromised immune systems.
Skin tags that are prone to injury are often in areas like the groin or underarm, where bacteria that are normally present on the skin congregate in higher numbers. Untreated cuts or tears in the skin may be more susceptible to infection in these areas. A type of bacteria that is normally present on the skin, Staphylococcus aureus, may infect untreated open wounds. Staphylococcus infections can be life-threatening, particularly if the strain of the bacteria is one that is resistant to antibiotics. Staphylococcus infections can be transmitted through locker rooms and other communal bathing areas or in hospitals. Taking care to remove skin tags that are in areas prone to injury can prevent these types of infections from occurring.
Skin tags themselves are entirely benign and do not usually have negative effects on a person’s health. Being proactive in maintaining your health is vital, particularly in later years. Since skin tags can be signs of a more serious underlying medical condition, it is important to monitor the appearance of new skin tags, particularly when they appear quickly and in greater numbers than usual. Visiting a doctor is important in these cases, since only a doctor can diagnose medical conditions like diabetes or other metabolic issues.