What Are Warts?

Common warts manifest as elevated rough patches of skin, typically found on the hands, feet, or face. They stem from specific strains of the HPV virus, spread through direct physical contact. While generally harmless (except for some variants of genital warts), these benign growths may emerge several months post-HPV exposure and typically resolve spontaneously.

What Are the Causes of Warts?

Contracting specific types of the human papillomavirus (HPV) leads to an increase in keratin, a tough protein present in hair and nails, on the skin’s outer layer. This surplus of protein results in the rough, scaly texture characteristic of common warts. HPV spreads through direct skin contact or sharing items. Skin cuts, breaks, or scrapes are especially susceptible to infection.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Warts?

The signs and symptoms of warts include:

  • Raised bumps on the skin.
  • Rough or grainy texture on the surface of the skin.
  • Small, flesh-colored, white, pink, or tan growths.
  • Appearance on hands, feet, face, groin or other areas of the body.
  • Sometimes clusters of warts may develop.
  • Pain or tenderness, especially if the wart is located on a weight-bearing area like the sole of the foot.
  • Black dots (clotted blood vessels) may be visible within the wart.
  • Warts may grow or spread over time.

What Are the Risk Factors of Warts?

Skin that is cut or broken is highly susceptible to HPV infection, thus common warts often emerge on areas routinely shaved such as the legs or beard region. Habits like nail biting or picking at the skin can also heighten the likelihood of wart development. Additionally, individuals with a weakened immune system due to factors like autoimmune disorders or specific medications are at an increased risk of contracting warts.

How Are Warts Diagnosed?

Typically, a dermatologist can diagnose warts by visually examining the affected area. In rare cases, they may opt for a skin biopsy to confirm the diagnosis.

What Are Possible Treatments for Warts?

Various treatments are available for common warts. These include freezing the wart with cryotherapy, which is quick, safe, and minimally painful, though multiple sessions are usually necessary. Additionally, topical creams like imiquimod or aldara, or a compounded product called Wart Paste can be applied directly to boost the immune system’s ability to combat warts. In kids, I often use a painless solution called cantharidin in the office, that you wash off at home later.  It causes a small blister, which helps kill wart cells and stimulate the immune system to combat the virus.  Multiple treatments are usually required.  Occasionally, an injection of Candida antigen will be used to stimulate the immune system to fight the virus.

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Are There Preventative Steps or Measures to Avoid Warts?

Warts spread through direct contact, either skin-to-skin or via shared surfaces. Therefore, practicing good hygiene such as wearing flip flops in communal showers or locker rooms, and maintaining regular showering and handwashing habits can aid in prevention. If you have warts, refrain from picking at them to avoid bleeding and reduce the risk of spreading the virus to other parts of the body. Please note, different strains cause warts on different parts of the body, so a wart on your hand will not cause genital warts, for example

What Are the Risks if Warts Are Left Untreated?

Although warts typically resolve on their own, this process may take more than a year or even several years without intervention. While warts are generally harmless, they can be bothersome or embarrassing. If you’re experiencing discomfort or dissatisfaction due to a wart, consider reaching out to a dermatologist for diagnosis and potential removal.

Are There Other Related Conditions to Warts?

Warts can be accompanied by several related conditions. These include plantar warts, which form on the soles of the feet, and flat warts, which appear in clusters on the face, arms, or legs. Genital warts, caused by specific strains of HPV, are a sexually transmitted infection and certain strains can lead to cervical cancer and even penile cancer or oral cancer from oral sex . Filiform warts have a thread-like appearance and often develop around the eyes, nose, or mouth. Periungual warts grow around or under the fingernails or toenails and can be painful. Mosaic warts are clusters of plantar warts that grow together. It’s crucial to seek professional medical advice for accurate diagnosis and treatment.

Meet Donnelley Dermatology

Dr. Naomi S. Donnelley, M.D., FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist with over 20 years of post-residency experience. She specializes in general medical, surgical, and cosmetic dermatology, and sees both pediatric and adult patients. She is a Diplomate of the American Board of Dermatology, a member... Learn More »

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