What Are Warts?
Warts are tiny skin infections caused by viruses of the human papillomavirus (HPV) family. Although kids get warts most often, teens and adults can get them too. Sometimes warts are sexually transmitted and appear in the genital area. But most warts affect the fingers, hands, face, and feet. They can be lighter or darker than the skin that surrounds them. Sometimes they have tiny black dots in them.
What Are the Kinds of Warts?
Types of warts include:
Common warts. Usually found on fingers, hands, knees, and elbows, a common wart is a small, hard, dome-shaped bump. It has a rough surface that may look like the head of a cauliflower.
Flat warts. These are about the size of a pinhead, are smoother than other kinds of warts, and have flat tops. Most flat warts are on the face, but they can grow anywhere and can appear in clusters.
Plantar warts. Found on the bottom of the foot, plantar warts can be very uncomfortable. You might feel like you're walking on a small stone. These usually are flatter than common warts because walking puts pressure on them and makes them grow inward. They can be easy to mistake for callouses.
Filiform warts. These have a finger-like shape, are usually flesh-colored, and often grow on or around the mouth, eyes, or nose.
What Causes Warts?
The HPV virus that causes warts can pass from person to person by close physical contact or from touching something that a person with a wart touches, like a towel, bathmat, or a shower floor.
How Long Before Symptoms Appear?
The length of time between when someone is exposed to HPV and a wart appears varies. But warts can grow very slowly and may take many months to develop.
How Long Do Warts Last?
Warts are different in different people. In time, many warts disappear on their own.
With treatment, warts can usually be removed within a few weeks, but they may come back if the virus causing them stays in the body for a while.
How Are Warts Treated?
Warts can be treated in various ways:
- Over-the-counter or prescription medicines usually have a peeling agent that removes the dead skin cells of the wart and eventually causes it to fall off. OTC treatments shouldn't be used on the face or genitals without consulting a doctor first as some of them may damage the skin.
- Cryotherapy is where a doctor freezes the wart with liquid nitrogen. This treatment is usually done in the doctor's office.
- Electrosurgery is where a doctor burns off the wart with a light electrical current.
- Laser or other surgery may be used for warts that are hard to remove.
Within a few days after treatment by a doctor, a small wart will usually fall off, although you may need more than one treatment. Treatment may take longer for larger warts.
Over-the-counter treatments may take longer than the doctor's office treatments, but can be used as initial treatment on the hands or feet. Your doctor may also tell you to use OTC treatments after you've had an in-office procedure.
You might also have heard that you can use duct tape to remove a wart. Talk to your doctor about whether this type of home treatment is OK for you.
What Can I Do About a Wart?
Most warts can be handled at home. Here's how:
- Soak the wart in warm water for at least 10 minutes.
- Remove dead skin on the wart’s surface by filing with an emery board (that's never going to be used for nails) before applying medicine. Be careful not to file into the normal skin around the wart.
- Apply medicine (over-the-counter or prescription) to the wart. Keep the area covered while the medicine works.
- Wash your hands after touching the wart.
- Don't rub, scratch, or pick at the wart becaue this could spread the virus to another part of the body or cause the wart to get infected.
- Don't share towels or other personal items with others.
What Can Help Prevent Warts?
Not all warts can be prevented. But it's always a good idea to wash your skin regularly and well. If you cut or scratch your skin, be sure to use soap and water because open wounds are more at risk for warts and other infections.
It's also a good idea to wear waterproof sandals or flip-flops in public showers, locker rooms, and around public pools (this also can help protect against other infections, like athlete's foot).
When Should I Call the Doctor?
Although many warts disappear on their own with time, it's a good idea to show your wart to a doctor, who can recommend a treatment method if you need one.
If you discover a wart on your face or on your genital area, call your doctor. They can decide the best treatment for those areas, which are very sensitive.
Also call the doctor if a wart or the skin around it is:
- oozing pus