Warts are non-cancerous skin growths caused by a viral infection in the top layer of the skin. Viruses that cause warts are called human papillomavirus (HPV). Warts are usually skin-colored and feel rough to the touch; however, the appearance of it depends on where it is growing.
How many kinds of warts are there?
There are several different kinds of warts including:
- Foot (Plantar) warts
- Flat warts
Common warts usually grow on the fingers, around the nails and on the backs of the hands. They are more common where skin has been broken, for example where fingernails are bitten or hangnails picked.
Foot warts are usually on the soles (plantar area) of the feet and are called plantar warts. Most plantar warts do not stick up above the surface like common warts because the pressure of walking flattens them and pushes them back into the skin.
Flat warts are smaller and smoother than other types. They tend to grow in large numbers – 20 to 100 at any one time. They can occur anywhere, but in children they are most common on the face. In adults they are often found in the beard area in men and on the legs in women. Irritation from shaving probably accounts for this.
How do you get warts?
They are passed from person to person, sometimes indirectly. The time from the first contact to the time the they have grown large enough to be seen is often several months.
How do dermatologists treat warts?
Dermatologists are trained to use a variety of treatments, depending on the age of the patient, the type of wart, and location.
Common warts in young children can be treated at home by their parents on a daily basis by applying salicylic acid gel, but it can take many weeks of treatment to obtain favorable results. They may also be treated by “painting” with cantharidin in the dermatologist’s office. Cantharidin causes a blister to form under the wart. The dermatologist can then clip away the dead part of the wart in the blister roof in a week or so. For adults and older children cryotherapy (freezing) is generally preferred. Repeat treatments at one to three week intervals are often necessary.
Can I treat my own warts without seeing a doctor?
There are some remedies available without a prescription. However, you might mistake another kind of skin growth for a wart, and end up treating something more serious as though it were a wart. If you have any questions about either the diagnosis or the best way to treat a wart, you should seek your dermatologist’s advice.
What about the problem of recurrent warts?
Sometimes it seems as if new warts appear as fast as old ones go away. This may happen because the old warts have shed virus into the surrounding skin before they were treated. In reality new “baby” warts are growing up around the original “mother” warts. The best way to limit this is to treat new ones as quickly as they develop so they have little time to shed virus into nearby skin. A check by your dermatologist can help assure the treated wart has resolved completely.