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Medical Dermatology

Warts

What are warts?

Warts are skin infections caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV). They become small, rough-surfaced, noncancerous growths that are usually painless. Some warts, especially those on the soles of the feet, may hurt and itch. Most warts are not of serious medical concern, but they can be embarrassing or bothersome.

Your doctor can diagnose a wart by examining the growth or taking a sample of the wart (shave biopsy) to test for HPV, the virus that causes warts.

What are the potential causes of warts?

There are over 100 different viruses in the HPV family. Some do not cause any symptoms, while others cause warts that are a sexually transmitted infection. Still other HPV viruses cause warts on the hands, feet, and other parts of the body.

The virus is passed through skin-to-skin contact or through shared personal items such as towels, washcloths, a bathmat, or a shower floor. The length of time between contracting the HPV virus and the appearance of a wart varies from person to person. They can grow slowly and develop over a period of months.

Some people do not develop warts after coming into contact with the virus. Each person has a different immune response to the virus, and those with weakened immune systems (such as the elderly or those with organ transplants), as well as children with less immunity to HPV are at higher risk for developing warts.

What are the kinds of warts?

Common warts

These types of warts are most found on your fingers or hands. They are rough, flesh-colored (they can also be white, pink, or tan) bumps with black dots inside. The black dots are sometimes known as wart seeds, but small, clotted blood vessels. Common warts are often transmitted through breaks in the skin, so they are more likely to occur if you have hangnails or bite your nails.

Filiform warts

These flesh-colored warts typically take on a finger-like shape, and are found on the eyelids, lips, face, or neck.

Flat warts

These warts are often found in clusters and are smoother than other types of warts. They can grow anywhere but they often appear in places where you shave frequently, such as the face or legs. 

Genital warts

Warts found in the genital areas are a type of sexually transmitted infection.

Plantar warts

These types of warts are often found on soles of the feet and resemble calluses. Like common warts, they have tiny black pinpoints. Since they are typically present in the weight-bearing areas of your feet, such as the heels, plantar warts can be painful and tender.

What are the treatment options?

Given enough time, warts in children will often go away on their own. This is less likely to happen in adults, who may wish to remove the wart with chemical skin treatments. If over-the-counter treatments are not effective, your dermatologist can remove the wart with various treatment options.

After treatment, small warts typically disappear within a period of a few days. Stubborn or larger warts may require more than one treatment or take several months to go away.

Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines

OTC medicines to treat warts contain salicylic acid. They come in liquid, gel, and patch form. It removes the layers of growth slowly and may require a daily application for months in order to completely get rid of the wart. Since the face and genital areas are sensitive, it is not recommended to try treating warts in these areas at home. In these cases, your healthcare provider can help you determine the best type of treatment.

Cryosurgery

This type of treatment, also known as freezing therapy, is performed at your doctor or dermatologist’s office. They will use liquid nitrogen to freeze and remove the wart. The dead tissue sheds itself over a period of a week, and typically requires more than one treatment. The benefit to cryosurgery is that it can stimulate your immune system to fight off future warts.

Laser surgery

For difficult to remove warts, laser surgery may be warranted. Your doctor will use a pulsed-dye laser to burn off the wart by cauterizing tiny blood vessels.

How can I prevent warts?

Warts are not preventable; however, good hygiene can help reduce the risk of virus transference. Since warts are a virus transmitted by touch, washing your hands regularly with soap and water is a good idea. Avoid sharing towels and other personal items with other people.

If you use a public shower at a gym, locker room, or dormitory, it is a good idea to wear flip-flops or shower sandals. The same holds true for walking around public pools. Not only will it help prevent warts, but it can also help prevent other infections, such as athlete’s foot.

You don’t want to pick at or scratch any existing warts you may have, as this could cause the virus to spread elsewhere on your body. It could also cause the wart to become infected. If your wart becomes painful or inflamed, it may be infected, and you should reach out to your doctor.


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