A wart is generally a small, rough tumor, typically on the hands and feet, that resembles a cauliflower. Warts are common, and are caused by a viral infection, specifically by the human papillomavirus (HPV). They typically disappear after a few months but can last for years and can recur. A few papillomaviruses are also known to cause cancer. Certain types of warts, depending on location and cause, can be contagious.
A range of different types of wart have been identified, which differ in shape and site affected, as well as the type of human papillomavirus involved. These include:
- Common Wart (verruca vulgaris): a raised wart with a rough surface, most common on hands and knees
- Flat Wart (verruca plana): a small, smooth flattened wart, tan or flesh coloured, which can occur in large numbers; most common on the face, neck, hands, wrists and knees
- Filiform or Digitate Wart: a thread- or finger-like wart, most common on the face, especially near the eyelids and lips
- Plantar Wart (verruca pedis): a hard, sometimes painful lump, often with multiple black specks in the centre; usually only found on pressure points on the soles of the feet
- Mosaic Wart: a group of tightly clustered plantar-type warts, commonly on the hands or soles of the feet
- Genital Wart (venereal wart, condyloma acuminatum, verruca acuminata): a wart affecting the genital areas
Treatment options for warts range from very simple home-remedies to prescription medication, depending on the type and severity of the wart, or its recurrence.
Over-the-counter wart remedies usually include salicylic acid as an active ingredient. These usually come in 2 main forms: adhesive pads treated with salicylic acid, or a bottle of concentrated salicylic acid. Removing a wart with this method requires a strict regimen of cleaning the area, applying the salicylic acid, and removing the dead skin with a pumice stone or emery board. It may take up to 12 weeks to remove a stubborn wart.
Another over-the-counter product that can aid in wart removal is silver nitrate in the form of a caustic pencil, which is also available at drug stores. This method generally takes three to six daily treatments to be effective. The instructions must be followed to minimize staining of skin and clothing. These treatments are capable of destroying healthy skin as well as warts, so caution must be exercised by those attempting them without medical supervision.
Duct-tape occlusion therapy (DTOT) is a controversial method for treating warts by keeping them covered with duct tape for an extended period. The putative mechanism is not well understood, but may have something to do with increased temperature, oxygen starvation and stimulation of the host immune system.
Treatment methods that may be prescribed by a medical professional include:
- Keratolysis, removal of dead surface skin cells usually using salicylic acid, blistering agents, immune system modifiers, or formaldehyde.
- Cryosurgery, which involves freezing the wart, after which the wart and surrounding dead skin falls off by itself. Surgical removal of the wart is sometimes also performed.
- Imiquimod, a topical cream that helps the body's immune system fight the wart virus by encouraging interferon production.
- Candida Injections at the site of the wart, which also stimulate the body's immune system.
None of these treatments seem to very effective on single uses; the wart often returns after the skin has healed from the treatment, but repeated treatment should get rid of the wart permanently. As they disappear after a few months and maximally a few years, treatment is necessary only if the lesions are painful or are a cosmetic problem.
more informationThe Family Doctor (Warts)
The Mayo Clinic (Common Warts)
CDC (Genital Warts)