What are warts?
Many people have warts or at least think they do. You have already probably seen a wart on someone you know or met. It is important to know what a wart is, how it looks, and what to do if you spot one on your body.
A wart is a small area with hardened skin that usually appears with a bumpy surface. Different warts may be of different sizes, shapes, and colors. Depending on the type of wart you have, they may appear anywhere on your body. In children, warts mostly appear on the hands, feet, and face.
There are five types of warts.
- Common warts: These are the type of warts typically found on the hands.
- Flat warts: Flat warts are warts that may appear on your face, mostly the forehead.
- Genital warts: You will find these types of warts on your genitals, pubic area, or between the thighs.
- Plantar warts: In this case, you may find warts at the bottom (soles) of your feet.
- Periungual and subungual warts: These warts may appear either under or around your fingernails and toenails.
Symptoms and signs of warts
In order to decide on what action to take next, you have to be in a position to identify a wart on your body. Warts vary depending on their type and location, but some indicators of warts are:
- Warts are often small fleshy, grainy bumps.
- Warts are often rough to the touch.
- Warts can be sensitive or painful, though not always.
- Warts can appear white, flesh-colored, tan, or even grayish.
- They may also be sprinkled with small, black pinpointed blood vessels.
Causes of warts
Warts may be caused by different types of human papillomavirus (HPV). The virus causes the skin to produce excess keratin making the site of the wart hard and rough. It affects the upper layer of the skin called the epidermis.
Who can get warts
You can get HPV and develop a wart from any surface or object someone with warts has touched or used.
Warts are also spread through direct contact with a person who has warts. You may get genital warts by engaging in unprotected sexual activity with an infected person. A wart may appear weeks or even months after infection from someone else.
Diagnosis for warts
When you see your doctor, they can usually tell if you have a wart by looking at it. A simple inspection might be enough. In some cases, your doctor might order a biopsy. In a biopsy, a small piece of the wart is examined under a microscope in the lab.
In most cases, warts will go away on their own without any medical intervention. That might happen within a year or two. You can either wait it out or seek the following treatment options:
- Salicylic acid: Your doctor may recommend this type of treatment as the first choice. Salicylic acid can either be informed of a liquid, gel, or patch. The liquid and gel are applied to the wart once or twice a day for 12 weeks. If the wart is on the sole of your foot, a patch is the best treatment option.
- Freezing (Cryotherapy): After your doctor examines your wart, they may spray or swab the wart and the surrounding area with liquid nitrogen. This type of treatment may be painful and usually takes three or four treatments (one every two or three weeks).
- Zapping and cutting: This treatment method is also known as electrodesiccation and curettage. Your doctor will use an electric needle to dry the wart and then scrape it off with a curette (a scoop-like instrument). This treatment may leave a scar and is usually done on warts that are not responding to other treatment options. Your doctor may advise against this type of treatment if the wart is on the sole of your foot.
- Duct tape: This type of treatment is something you can do by yourself. It involves covering the wart with duct tape in intervals of six days for two months or until the wart disappears.
Warts may not respond to standard therapies and may require the use of medication.
Your doctor may prescribe topical immunotherapy drugs like imiquimod (Aldara). It is used as standard therapy for genital warts but can also get rid of warts on the skin. Another medication that might work is fluorouracil (5-FU), a chemotherapy drug used as a cream. Bleomycin is another chemotherapy medicine that can be injected into the wart.
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In general, warts are harmless and do not pose much risk. If you notice a wart that does not change much in terms of size, shape, or color, you may not need to see your doctor.
You should however seek medical attention if you are in your 50s and start developing new warts. Warts that bleed quickly or grow at a fast rate may be a sign of a serious condition or complication.
Medically Reviewed on 3/16/2021
Family Doctor: “Warts.”
Harvard Health Publishing: “How to get rid of warts.”
Kids Health: “Warts.”
NHS Inform: “Warts and Verrucas.”
Podiatry Today: “Exploring Alternative Treatment For Resistant Warts.”