Warts are small, sometimes painless growths on the skin caused by a papillomavirus. They can increase in size and multiply over time. Some warts are easy to treat while others are difficult. There are many methods to treat warts and it can take weeks to months to obtain a cure. They do have a tendency to reoccur. It is important that they be evaluated so as to eliminate the possibility of a malignant tumor.
The different types of warts include:
- Common warts usually appear on the hands, but can appear anywhere.
- Flat warts are generally found on the face and forehead. They are common in children, less so in teens, and rare in adults.
- Plantar warts are found on the soles of the feet.
- Subungual and periungual warts appear under and around the fingernails or toenails.
The typical wart is a raised round or oval growth on the skin with a rough surface. Compared with the surrounding normal skin, warts may appear light, dark, or black (rare). Most adults are familiar with the look of a typical wart and have little trouble recognizing them. Unusual warts with smooth surfaces or flat warts in children may be more difficult for parents to recognize.
Common warts tend to cause no discomfort unless they are in areas of repeated friction or pressure. Plantar warts, for example, can become extremely painful. Large numbers of plantar warts on the foot may cause difficulty running and even walking.
Warts around and under your nails are much more difficult to cure than warts elsewhere.
Warts should be treated as they are a virus and can enlarge and spread. Left alone the size and amount of warts can become severe and painful when they are in a weight bearing area. Genital warts are contagious, while common, flat, and plantar warts are much less likely to spread from person to person. All warts can spread from one part of your own body to another.
Because people generally consider warts unsightly and there is often a social stigma, treatment is often sought.
- Abnormally dark or light skin surrounding the lesion
- Numerous small, smooth, flat (pinhead sized) lesions on forehead, cheeks, arms, or legs
- Rough growths around or under fingernails or toenails
- Rough, round, or oval lesions on soles of feet -- flat to slightly raised -- painful to pressure
- Small, hard, flat or raised skin lesion or lump
Exams and Tests
Warts can generally be diagnosed simply by their location and appearance. Your doctor may want to perform a biopsy to confirm that it is not a corn, callous, or other similar-appearing growth.
Over-the-counter medications can remove warts. These are applied to the wart every day for several weeks. DO NOT use these medications on your face or genitals. It helps to file the wart down when damp (for example, after a bath or shower) before applying these medications.
Special cushions are available at drugstores for plantar warts. These pads help relieve any pressure and pain from the warts.
Stronger (prescription) medications may be required for removal of persistent warts. Surgical removal or removal by freezing (cryotherapy), burning (electrocautery), or laser treatment may be needed.
DO NOT attempt to remove a wart yourself by burning, cutting, tearing, picking, or any other method.
Warts are generally harmless growths that often go away on their own within two years. They can be contagious, but transmission from person to person is uncommon. Warts may be unsightly or cause discomfort, especially on the feet.