Warts. Chances are, at some point in your life you’ve had one, and you didn’t get it from a toad. The truth is that warts are harmless, non-cancerous growths that can affect anyone at any age and can appear anywhere on the body.
Warts occur when one of the many types of the human papillomavirus (HPV) virus comes in contact with your skin and causes an infection.
“Though they may be harmless, warts are often embarrassing, sometimes painful and very contagious,” says Dr. Sital Patel of U.S. Dermatology Partners of Austin – Mueller. “The good news is that there are many effective treatment options for wart removal.”
Which treatment is best for you? Here’s everything you need to know.
What You Should Know About Warts
The HPV virus causes warts, which are typically rough and skin-colored, but can also be dark brown or grey and smooth and flat. The most common type of wart is typically found on the fingers, around the nails and on the backs of the hands. Foot warts, also called plantar warts, often appear on the soles of the feet and can be painful.
Flat warts are smaller and smoother than other warts and often grow in large groups with as many as 100 grouped together at a time. Filiform warts look like long threads and typically show up around the mouth, nose and eyes.
Warts are especially common in areas of broken skin because the virus can easily enter the top layer of skin. The best defense against warts is washing your hands regularly, keeping your skin healthy and moisturized so that it doesn’t crack and bleed, and wearing flip flops in public showers and locker rooms.
“Warts are contagious and are passed through contact with a wart on someone else’s body or a surface that has touched someone’s warts,” says Dr. Patel. “You can also spread warts from one part of your body to another, so you should always wash your hands after touching a wart.”
You should also avoid biting your fingernails and cuticles or sharing towels, socks or razors with someone who has warts. If you shave over a wart, you can even spread the virus through your own razor.
What You Should Know About Wart Removal
Often, warts go away on their own, but it can take months and sometimes years. Because they are so contagious, it is recommended that you treat your warts as soon as possible to keep them from spreading.
Over-the-counter treatments can effectively get rid of some warts, but not all. For those warts too stubborn for non-prescription-strength treatments, a dermatologist can remove your warts in his office. There are many effective treatments for wart removal, including:
Cryotherapy, also called cryosurgery, is a simple, non-invasive procedure that uses liquid nitrogen to freeze and destroy the wart. Liquid nitrogen is applied to the wart with a cotton swab, quickly freezing the tissue. As the tissue slowly thaws, the wart is destroyed at the cellular level. After freezing, the affected area may blister and scab over before healing within three to six weeks.
Cantharidin is a toxic chemical compound that your doctor paints onto the wart before covering the area with a bandage for 24 hours. After the procedure, which is virtually painless, a blister will form. As it dries, the wart will fall off along with the dead skin cells.
With electrosurgery, warts are burned away with an electrical charge sent through a needle. The skin around the wart is first numbed with a local anesthetic, and then the charge is applied to dry out and burn off the wart. Sometimes, the procedure can leave a scar and warts can return after treatment.
Curettage, often used in conjunction with electrosurgery, is the surgical removal of wart tissue by scraping or cutting away the wart with a small, sharp spoon-shaped tool. The procedure can cause scarring and typically requires a local anesthetic, and warts can reoccur.
For stubborn warts that don’t respond to other treatments, your dermatologist may also use laser therapy, chemical peels or medications such as the anti-cancer medicine bleomycin to destroy the wart. Sometimes immunotherapy can also be used to treat warts by administering shots of interferon to boost a patient’s immune system so that they can more effectively fight off the HPV virus.
Do At-Home Treatments Really Work?
You may have heard of some at-home treatments for wart removal such as acid, nail files and even duct tape, but do they really work?
Salicyclic acid can be an effective way to peel away a wart if used correctly. After applying the acidic wart remover, you can use a pumice stone, emery board or nail file to remove the dead skin from the wart the day after each application. Make sure you don’t use the file for anything else —it could spread the virus to other parts of your body — and throw it away when the wart is gone.
"Ultimately, there is no cure for the virus that causes warts. Even after treatment, warts can reappear in the same place or on another place on the body," says Dr. Patel. "To keep warts from spreading, you should always call your doctor as soon as a wart appears and have it treated as soon as possible. Warts are stubborn to treat, and can often take multiple treatments."
If you have an unsightly or embarrassing wart that won’t go away on its own, hurts or if you have multiple warts, make an appointment today with one of our board-certified dermatologists for a consultation to determine which treatment option is best for you.