Warts are benign (not cancerous) skin growths that appear when a virus infects the top layer of the skin. Viruses that cause warts are called human papillomavirus (HPV). You are more likely to get one of these viruses if you cut or damage your skin in some way.
Anyone can get warts. Some people are more prone to getting a wart virus (HPV) than others. These people are:
- Children and teens.
- People who bite their nails or pick at hangnails.
- People with a weakened immune system (the body’s defense system).
In children, warts often go away without treatment. A dermatologist should treat warts that hurt, bother the child, or quickly multiply.
Warts often go away without treatment. This is especially true when children get warts. In adults, warts may not disappear as easily or as quickly as they do in children. Although most warts are harmless, dermatologists do treat them.
You should see a dermatologist if you cannot get rid of the warts, the warts hurt, or you have many warts. Dermatologists have many treatments for warts. The treatment used depends on the patient’s age and health as well as the type of wart.
There are many possible treatment options for warts. Some are listed below.
- Cantharidin: A dermatologist may treat a wart in the office by "painting" it with cantharidin. Cantharidin causes a blister to form under the wart. In a week or so, you can return to the office and the dermatologist will clip away the dead wart.
- Cryotherapy: For common warts in adults and older children, cryotherapy (freezing) is the most common treatment. This treatment is not too painful. It can cause dark spots in people who have dark skin. It is common to need repeat treatments.
- Laser treatment: Laser treatment is an option, mainly for warts that have not responded to other therapies. Before laser treatment, the dermatologist may numb the wart with an anesthetic injection (shot).
- Chemical peels: When flat warts appear, there are usually many warts. Because so many warts appear, dermatologists often prescribe "peeling" methods to treat these warts. This means, you will apply a peeling medicine at home every day. Peeling medicines include salicylic acid (stronger than you can buy at the store), tretinoin, and glycolic acid.
- Bleomycin: The dermatologist may inject each wart with an anti-cancer medicine, bleomycin. The shots may hurt. They can have other side effects, such as nail loss if given in the fingers.
- Immunotherapy: This treatment uses the patient’s own immune system to fight the warts. This treatment is used when the warts remain despite other treatments. One type of immunotherapy involves imiquimod cream applied at home or an injection with yeast antigen (candida). A mild inflammatory reaction occurs around the treated warts. This reaction may cause the warts to go away.
There is no cure for the wart virus. This means that warts can return at the same site or appear in a new spot.
Sometimes, it seems that new warts appear as fast as old ones go away. This happens when the old warts shed virus cells into the skin before the warts are treated. This allows new warts to grow around the first warts.
Warts can often be treated at home. The following explains when you can safely treat warts at home and when you should see a dermatologist.
You can get some wart remedies without a prescription and treat the warts yourself. This may be enough to get rid of the warts. The only problem with self-treatment is that you might mistake another kind of skin growth for a wart. Some skin cancers look like warts.
You should see a dermatologist when you have:
- A suspicion that the growth is not a wart.
- A wart on your face or genitals.
- Many warts.
- Warts that hurt, itch, burn, or bleed.
- A weakened immune system.
- Diabetes. Never try to remove any wart on your foot if you have diabetes. If you cut or burn your skin, it could cause lasting damage to the nerves in your feet.
You can use the following at home:
- Salicylic acid: You can treat warts at home by applying salicylic acid (40% strength is most effective). This medicine is available without a prescription. It comes in different forms — a gel, liquid, or plaster (pad). You should apply salicylic acid to the wart every day. Before applying the salicylic acid, be sure to soak the wart in warm water. Salicylic acid is rarely painful. If the wart or the skin around the wart starts to feel sore, you should stop treatment for a short time. It can take many weeks of treatment to have good results — even when you do not stop treatment. Some useful products are listed below. They may be available at your local pharmacy or through online purchase (Amazon, etc)
- Dr. Scholl's Clear Away wart remover for plantar warts - contains 40% sal acid
- Curad Mediplast 40% salicylic acid cut-to-fit pads
- Compound W One Step Pads
- Compound W One Step Invisible Strips
- Other home remedies: Some home remedies are harmless, such as covering warts with duct tape. Changing the tape every few days might peel away layers of the wart. Studies conflict, though, on whether duct tape really gets rid of warts.
Many people think certain folk remedies and hypnosis get rid of warts. Since warts may go away without treatment, it's hard to know whether a folk remedy worked or the warts just went away.
Ask your dermatologist if you are unsure about the best way to treat a wart.
To prevent warts from spreading, dermatologists recommend the following:
- Do not pick or scratch at warts.
- Wash your hands after treating warts.
- Wear flip-flops or pool shoes in public showers, locker rooms, and pool areas.
- Do not touch someone’s wart.
- Keep foot warts dry, as moisture tends to allow warts to spread.
- Avoid using the same emery board, pumice stone, or nail clipper on warts as you use on your healthy skin and nails.
- Avoid biting your fingernails. Warts occur more often in skin that has been broken.
- Avoid sharing razors, towels, or socks with others that are in contact with warts.