Warts: Causes, types, and treatments

A wart is a small growth with a rough texture that can appear anywhere on the body. It can look like a solid blister or a small cauliflower.

Warts are caused by viruses in the human papillomavirus (HPV) family.

The appearance of a wart depends on its location on the body and the thickness of the skin.

Palmar warts appear on the hand. Plantar warts affect the feet.

As many as 1 in 3 children and teenagers are estimated to have warts, but only 3 to 5 percent of adults. This is probably because the immune system becomes better able to prevent their development over time.

People with a weakened immune system are more likely to have warts.

Fast facts on warts

Here are some key points about warts. More detail is in the main article.

A wart is a small growth on the skin that may look like a solid blister or a small cauliflower.

Types of wart include common warts, flat warts, pigmented warts, and plantar warts.

Black dots in the wart are blood vessels that can lead to bleeding.

Most warts disappear in 1 to 5 years without medical treatment, but treatment is available for warts that are large, numerous, or in sensitive areas.

Treatments include salicylic acid, duct tape, cryotherapy, surgery, laser treatment, electrocautery, photodynamic therapy, chemical treatments, topical creams, cantharidin, and antigen shots.

Warts or verrucae should be covered up with a waterproof Band-Aid when swimming.

Treatment

[Palmer warts ]
Palmer warts occur on the hand and are frequent in those who handle meat for a living.

Most warts clear up without treatment. It can take from a few weeks to several years, depending on the location and number of warts. They usually disappear faster in children.

One third of children are estimated to have warts, but studies have found that 50 percent of these disappear within a year, and 70 percent are gone after 2 years.

However, if they do not disappear, or if a wart causes concern, medical help is available.

A doctor will examine the wart, they may ask about family history, and they may take some tissue for tests.

What treatments are available?

All wart treatments are designed to irritate the skin and get the body’s own infection-fighting cells to clear the warts.

Salicylic acid

Most over-the-counter creams, gels, paints, and medicated Band-Aids contain salicylic acid.

It is important to protect the skin around the wart before applying this treatment because salicylic acid may destroy healthy skin. Do not apply to the face.

Applying petroleum jelly or a corn plaster to the skin around the wart can protect it from damage.

Some tips can enhance the effectiveness of this treatment.

Soften the wart by rubbing dead tissue from the surface of the wart weekly using a pumice stone or emery board. Make sure that the pumice stone or emery board is not used on any other part of the body or by another person.

Before applying the medication, soak the wart in water for about 5 minutes.

Treatment is normally applied daily for about 3 months. If the skin becomes sore, treatment should be stopped.

There is a selection of salicylic acid available for purchase online.

Cryotherapy

Freezing liquid, often nitrogen, is sprayed onto the wart, destroying the cells. A blister develops, which eventually scabs and falls off a week or so later.

This treatment must be carried out by a healthcare professional. If the wart is large, this may require a local anesthetic and several sessions.

Pharmacies sell dimethyl-ether or propane spray for self-administration. These should not be used on the face, and they are less effective than cryotherapy that is carried out by a qualified professional.

Surgery

[Warts cryotherapy]
A dermatologist can use cryotherapy to remove warts.

This not common for warts, and there is a risk of scarring. Warts that resolve by themselves do not scar.

Sometimes a doctor may recommend surgery if other treatments have not worked.

Most warts can be shaved off with a surgical razor under local anesthesia.

Doctors may recommend applying a topical cream to the site even after the wart’s removal, to improve the chances of it clearing.

Laser treatment uses a precise laser beam to destroy the wart.

Cantharidin

A doctor may apply a substance containing an extract from an insect called a blister beetle and other chemicals to the warts. The area is then covered with a bandage.

This is painless, but it creates a blister that may be uncomfortable. The blister lifts the wart from the skin, and the doctor removes the dead part of the wart.

Candida antigen shots

The human immune system does not notice a wart, but if the system is stimulated locally, some activated immune cells in the area will recognize it and take action. This procedure leaves no scarring.

This treatment may not be suitable during pregnancy.

Other treatments

If warts do not respond to standard treatments, a dermatologist, or skin specialist, may offer other options.

Immunotherapy attempts to make the patient’s immune system destroy the warts

Bleomycin, or Blenoxane, can be injected into the wart to kill the virus. Bleomycin is also used for treating some types of cancer.

Retinoids, derived from vitamin A, disrupt the wart’s skin cell growth.

Antibiotics are only effective in the case of infection.

Common warts, especially around the fingernails and toenails, may be difficult to eliminate completely or permanently.

If the wart is gone but the virus remains, warts may recur.

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Types

The following are the most common types of wart.

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