WHAT WE TREAT
Warts are benign (non-cancerous) protrusions on the skin.
They are quite common, affecting about 10% of people.
Warts are particularly common among schoolchildren, with a prevalence rate of up to 20%.
What Are Warts?
Warts are areas of excessive skin growth. They protrude up from the surface of the skin. While these growths are not indicative of cancer, their appearance can be distressing. Sometimes, warts can also be painful. Patients may wish to try over-the-counter (OTC) medications to get rid of warts. If OTC drugs are insufficient, a doctor can perform medical treatments. However, there is a high rate of recurrence after treatment.
Signs and Symptoms of Warts
Common warts most often affect the hands and fingers. They appear as small, flesh-colored bumps. Warts can also be pink, tan, or white. You may notice small pinpricks of black. These are clotted blood vessels. Warts do not generally cause any symptoms. However, they may be itchy or cause pain if they are in an area restricted by tight clothing or on the soles of the feet.
There are a few different types of warts. Different warts can have a slightly different appearance. Flat warts, for example, are raised only slightly from the surface of the skin. Warts can also be defined by the body parts they affect:
Flat warts: Tend to appear in areas that are shaved frequently
Plantar warts: Appear on the feet
Genital warts: Develop in the genital region
Causes and Risk Factors of Warts
Warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is one of the most common infections. Many people carry it without realizing it. There are more than 150 subtypes of HPV. Some HPV strains can cause cancer, while others can cause warts. Most common warts are caused by HPV types two and four. Flat warts are caused by types three, 10, and 28, while cystic warts are caused by HPV type 60. Note that not everyone who acquires HPV will develop warts.
HPV is often spread through sexual contact. However, it can also be spread through skin-to-skin contact. In addition, objects such as towels and washcloths can spread the virus. Once the virus is on your skin, it can enter the body through cracks in the skin and cause an infection.
Certain people are at a higher risk of warts. These include children and young adults. This is because their immune systems are still immature and may not be able to withstand the virus as well. In addition, immunocompromised patients are at a higher risk. These include people with HIV/AIDS and organ transplant patients.
If you already have one wart, you are at a higher risk of developing more. This is because one wart can spread the virus to other parts of your body. To reduce this risk, do not use the same emery board on your wart that you use on your fingernails. Avoid picking at the wart or biting your fingernails. In fact, try to avoid touching the wart at all.
Diagnosis of Warts
In nearly every case, a doctor can accurately diagnose warts simply by looking at them. Be prepared to answer some questions, however. These may include the following:
How long have you had the growth?
Have you previously been diagnosed with warts or other skin conditions?
Is the growth causing symptoms?
Have you tried any home treatments? If so, what were they and did they have any effect?
Occasionally, a doctor may need to confirm the diagnosis by scraping away some skin from the top of the wart. This allows the doctor to see whether small, clotted blood vessels are present within the growth—a telltale sign of warts. If it’s possible for the growth to be another type of skin problem, the doctor may remove a sample of tissue and send it to a lab for analysis.
Treatment and Care of Warts
It’s possible for common warts to resolve by themselves. However, it may take a year or longer for a wart to go away. And in the meantime, it’s possible for the warts to spread. Many patients opt for home remedies first. You can purchase an over-the-counter cryogenic product. These use liquid nitrogen to freeze the wart and destroy it.
Other OTC products use salicylic acid to cause the wart to peel away. First, soak the wart in warm water for several minutes. Then, apply the product as directed. Most OTC wart removers require daily application for several weeks. In between each application, you can file away dead and peeling skin with a pumice stone or emery board.
If home treatments are not enough to remove the wart, or if you are pregnant or have an immunocompromising condition (like HIV or hepatitis), it’s best to talk to a doctor about prescription treatment options. Your doctor may recommend a prescription-strength salicylic acid treatment or freezing therapy—or both.
Sometimes, not even these treatments are enough to get rid of a wart. If your wart is proving particularly stubborn, your doctor may recommend using trichloroacetic acid. Patients typically have this treatment in the office. You may need additional treatments staggered one to two weeks apart.
For very stubborn warts, doctors may recommend surgical removal of the wart. This is a minor, in-office procedure. Laser surgery may also be available.
Note that even after the successful treatment of a wart, recurrence rates are high. Be on the lookout for new growths.
When to Talk to a Doctor About Warts
Although warts are not considered medically serious, they can sometimes be painful. This is particularly true if they are located on the bottoms of the feet, as pressure from walking or running can cause pain. Furthermore, a wart located on an area of the body that the patient typically shaves can become painful if the patient accidentally shaves over it. If you have painful warts, you can talk to a doctor at any time to explore your treatment options. In addition, it’s a good idea to speak with a healthcare provider if any of the following are true:
You are an adult and you have recently noticed an outbreak of many warts on your skin. This may indicate a problem with the immune system.
Your warts are interfering with your daily activities, such as exercise or mobility.
You have tried over-the-counter treatments for your warts, but they linger, or they resolve and then recur.
You don’t know for sure that your growth is a wart and you want to confirm the diagnosis.
Furthermore, you can speak with a doctor about your skin condition if you’re distressed about the appearance of the wart. Many people choose to have them treated for aesthetic reasons.
MeMD is a convenient and secure way to receive medical care for warts online, over the phone, or by app 24/7/365.
This page offers general health information to facilitate discussion with your telehealth provider. You must not rely on the information on our website as an alternative to medical advice from your doctor or other professional healthcare provider.