What are warts?
Warts are raised bumps on the skin caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). Hundreds of variations of the HPV virus exist and typically cause warts to grow on the hands and feet. Such warts are not thought of as being harmful. However, when certain strains of HPV appear in sensitive areas, it may indicate something more problematic which must be treated.
What causes warts? Can warts be prevented?
Warts are caused by a virus known as the human papillomavirus, commonly referred to as HPV. The virus can be spread throughout the body as well as from person to person. Some warts are more contagious than others, but there are ways to help stop the spread of warts.
- Wash your hands regularly, especially if you’ve been in contact with someone with warts.
- Don’t pick at existing warts.
- Cover warts with bandages.
- Keep hands and feet clean and dry, especially while in crowded public places.
- If warts are present, keep areas with warts clean and dry.
- When in damp, communal areas like locker rooms and pools, always wear shoes.
- If you have warts on your feet, wear moisture wicking socks when you are likely to sweat.
How do I know if I have a wart or something else?
In some cases, a visual examination is not enough to determine whether a growth is a wart or a different skin condition. In cases like these, a doctor may complete a diagnostic test before treatment can begin.
During a scrape test, the top layer of the wart is scraped off to check for clotted blood vessels that appear as dark, pinpoint dots. This signifies that the growth is a wart.
For larger growths, scrape tests are often inconclusive. In these cases, a shave biopsy is recommended. After topical anesthesia is applied, a scalpel is held parallel to the growth and then moved in a straight motion to remove a small section of tissue. The sample is then sent to a lab for testing.
What type of warts do I have?
- Location Most often on hands, but can be found throughout the body.
- Shape Dome
- Color Gray-brown
- Location Face, arms, legs
- Shape Flat. Do not protrude like other warts.
- Color Pink, light brown, and/or yellow
- Location Face, especially mouth and nose
- Shape Small with protruding threadlike growths
- Color Match skin tone
- Location Feet
- Shape Thick, hardened specks
- Color Dark brown
- Location Under fingernails and toenails
- Shape Round bumps
- Color Yellow, brown, and/or pink
- Location Genital area
- Shape Dome or round bumps. Often appear in clusters
- Color White, flesh toned, pink, and/or brown
What treatments are available for warts at Skin And Cancer Institute?
There is no cure for the human papillomavirus that causes warts, but there are many treatments available to lessen or even eliminate the appearance of warts. Even with intervention, warts often recur and spread. The goals of treatment are to destroy warts and stimulate an immune system response to fight the virus. Your doctor may suggest one or a combination of the following approaches based on the location of your warts, your symptoms, and your preferences.
Your doctor may prescribe a topical medication in the form of cream, gel, or ointment. Most topical medications are applied daily and must be left untouched while they soak into the wart. This method is usually attempted first on genital warts, as it is the least invasive for the sensitive treatment area.
When applied to warts, cantharidin causes a blister to form under the growth. Over 7-10 days, the wart will slowly separate from underlying tissue. When the tissue is fully separated, return to the office and the dermatologist will clip away the dead wart.
Electrodesiccation and Curettage
Electrodesiccation is a good treatment for common warts, filiform warts, and foot warts. An electrodesiccation tool will be used to burn the surface of the wart, and then a curette is used to scrap off the dead tissue.
For common warts in adults and older children, cryotherapy is the most common treatment. Liquid nitrogen will be applied with a cryogun to the center of the wart, forming an ice ball in the center until the entire growth is frozen. The treated lesion will gradually heal, and any dead skin and scabs will naturally detach during the healing process.
In some cases, it may be best to completely remove the wart with a scalpel. This procedure is done in the office with the use of local anesthesia. Stitches are usually required to close the wound.
For warts that have not responded to other therapies, laser treatment may be an option. Before the procedure, your specialist may numb the wart with an anesthetic injection.
A chemical peel is the best treatment for warts that appear in clusters, though it is not a treatment option for genital warts.