Causes, treatment and prevention.
Viruses cause warts, and you can get infected with the virus by walking barefoot around pools, locker rooms or gyms. Warts may spread from person to person, but this is uncommon. Warts — usually small, painless growths on the skin — may be round or oval, and may be lighter or darker than the skin around them.
Common warts can occur anywhere on the body, but are usually seen on the fingers, hands, knees and elbows. When these warts are found around or under the fingernail or toenail, they are called subungual or periungual warts. Plantar warts are on the soles (bottoms) of the feet. Flat warts are often on the backs of the hands, face and lower legs.
People usually want to remove a wart if it is painful or if they just don’t like the look of it. Most home treatments will take weeks to months to work. Some warts will just go away by themselves without any treatment, within two years. Warts can also return.
You should never try to cut, burn, tear or pick off a wart by yourself, but you can use salicylic acid and duct tape.
Salicylic acid, a mild acid sold in drugstores, may be available in a patch or in liquid form. Be sure to follow the directions on the package. Avoid this type of treatment if you have any form of nerve damage, called neuropathy. Do not use over-the-counter medications on your face or private areas.
It is not clear if the duct tape actually makes a wart go away or if it would be gone by itself anyway, but many people try duct tape to make warts disappear. Be sure to use the silver — not the clear — tape. You should cover the wart with the tape, using a very small piece so that you cover only the wart. After six days, remove the tape, and soak the skin in warm water for 10 to 20 minutes (in the bath or shower). Use an emery board, nail file or pumice stone to gently scrape off the dead skin. Do not use the same emery board on your nails, as doing so might spread the virus and cause more warts. Leave the area uncovered for one night, and then apply the tape again for six days. If you don’t see improvement within two weeks, this method may not be working. However, if you think it’s better, you may continue for another two weeks (one month total).
Your healthcare provider might use other special treatments, such as:
• Cryotherapy, freezing the wart with liquid nitrogen
• Podophyllin, a stronger prescription medication
• Imiquimod, a prescription skin medicine
• Cantharin, a different medicine that destroys the wart. This medicine may cause pain and blisters or swelling shortly after you use it
• Electrocautery, which burns the wart to remove it
• Laser treatment, for difficult-to-remove warts
• Injecting the wart, using a medicine that helps the body fight the virus that causes wart
Note that genital warts in your private areas are treated very differently from common skin warts
When to Contact Your Healthcare Provider
• The wart is causing pain
• The wart is not responding to your own treatment
• The wart is bleeding, and the bleeding will not stop with light pressure
• The wart shows pus, red streaks or other drainage, or you have a fever with these signs, which could mean there is an infection
• The warts are on your anal or genital areas
• The wart changes color or appearance without having any treatment
• If you have diabetes or a weakened immune system and have just developed warts
How to Prevent Warts
• Because a common virus causes warts, there might not be any way you even would know that you were in contact with the virus. But you can avoid contact with a wart on someone else
• Wash your hands carefully after touching someone’s skin that has warts
• Wear socks and shoes to prevent warts
• Wash the nail file that you use to file a wart in warm soapy water, so you don’t spread the virus to other parts of your body.
• Ask you healthcare provider about vaccines that help prevent some types of viruses that can cause warts
Terea Giannetta, DNP, CPNP, is an Associate Professor at California State University, Fresno, and is also the Chief NP at Children’s Hospital Central California. Her clinical practice is in Pediatric Hematology.