Why Do People Get Warts And What Can Be Done To Treat Them?

A wart is a small growth that can appear anywhere on the body. It has a rough texture and can look like a solid blister or a small cauliflower. Warts generally affect children and teenagers; only three to five percent of adults have them, however, an estimated one in three children and teenagers will be affected by warts. Although one-third of children are estimated to have warts, studies have found that 50 percent of these disappear within a year, and 70 percent are gone after two years. The immune system becomes stronger as we age and our bodies become better able at preventing the development of warts over time. Generally speaking, people with a weakened immune system are more likely to have warts. People also develop warts as a result of contracting human papillomavirus (HPV).

Warts are caused by viruses in the human papillomavirus (HPV) family. Warts will appear differently depending on its size, location on the body and overall thickness of the skin. The virus is common in the United States and there are approximately 14 million newly diagnosed cases of HPV annually.

What Are The Different Types of Warts?

There are five main types of warts, all occur on specific parts of the body and all have their own distinct appearance.

1) Common warts

Common warts generally pop up on the fingers and toes but sometimes happen on other body parts. This type of wart has a rough grainy appearance and a rounded top. They appear greyer looking than the surrounding skin. Palmar warts are common warts that appear on the hand, while plantar warts affect our feet.

2) Plantar warts

Plantar warts are found on the soles of the feet, and unlike other types of warts, these grow into your skin rather than out of it. If you notice what looks like a small hole on the bottom of your foot that is surrounded by hardened skin, you likely have a plantar wart. Plantar warts can make walking feel uncomfortable, so this type is much more bothersome to one’s everyday activity than common warts.

3) Flat warts

Flat warts usually grow on the face, thighs, or arms. They are small and may not be immediately noticeable. These can appear pink, brownish, or slightly yellow and have a flat looking top.

4) Filiform warts

Filiform warts grow around the mouth and/or nose and sometimes can appear on the neck or under your chin. They are also small but unlike flat warts, they appear looking similar to the color of your skin.

5) Periungual warts

Periungual warts grow under and around the toenails and fingernails. These are usually painful and also can affect nail growth.

How Can Warts Be Treated?

Wart treatments are designed to irritate the skin so that the body’s own infection-fighting agents produce cells to clear the wart. Warts are difficult to treat, as there is no one universal treatment that is 100% successful on all the various types of warts. A wide range of treatments are used at the Idaho Skin Institute in treating warts, as well as other common skin issues such as acnecystspsoriasisrosaceavitiligo and dry skin. When it comes to warts, the doctors’ recommendations for which strategy to use in eliminating them depends on the location of the body, type of wart and severity. The important thing to remember is that it will take time, often several months to fully clear warts.

Some of the most common treatments are described below:

●        Salicylic acid

The local pharmacy is packed with over-the-counter creams, gels, paints, and medicated Band-Aids containing salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is a powerful agent and can destroy healthy skin, so make sure to protect the skin around the wart with some petroleum jelly or a corn plaster, and do not apply products like this to your face.

Some tips to enhance the effectiveness of this treatment include softening the wart prior to treatment by removing dead skin tissue from the surface using a pumice stone or emery board. Make sure that the pumice stone or emery board is not used on any other part of the body or by another person. Another recommendation for prepping the area to soak the wart in warm water for about 5 - 10 minutes before applying the medicinal treatment. Treatment is normally applied daily for about three months. Pay attention to the skin around the wart and if the skin becomes sore, treatment should be stopped and you should check in with your doctor about the next steps. There is a selection of salicylic acid products available for purchase online and we also sell several products like this at our clinics.

●        Cryotherapy

This treatment involves using a freezing liquid, often nitrogen being sprayed onto the wart, destroying the cells in the process. A blister develops afterwards, which eventually scabs and falls off a week or so later. This treatment can only be carried out by a healthcare professional, and if the wart is large, you may require a local anesthetic and several sessions before the wart is completely removed.

The pharmaceutical version of this therapy is using a dimethyl-ether or propane spray for self-administration. Be very careful to keep these substances away from your face, and generally we don’t recommend this treatment as it is a much less effective method than cryotherapy that is carried out by a qualified practitioner.

●        Surgery

Treating warts with surgery is not very common, and there is a risk of scarring with this method, whereas warts that resolve themselves do not scar. In some cases surgery may be recommended when other treatment methods have failed, it is an uncomplicated procedure as most warts can be shaved off with a surgical razor while the patient is comfortable under local anesthesia. Following the surgery doctors will often recommend applying a topical cream to the site even after the wart’s removal, to improve the chances of it clearing completely. Another form of surgical intervention for warts is laser treatment, where a precise laser beam is used to destroy the wart.

●        Cantharidin

This is an interesting type of treatment where a doctor applies a substance containing an extract from an insect called a blister beetle and other chemicals to warts. The area is then covered with a bandage and the treatment creates a blistering effect on the wart that lifts it from the skin, the doctor then removes the dead part of the wart. It is a painless procedure but can be uncomfortable, particularly when it comes to the blistering part of treatment.

●        Immunotherapy

This treatment can be performed in the clinic or at home. It is best used for patients with many warts and involves making the patient allergic to a substance (the allergen). Allergens that can be used include squaric acid, DNCB, and yeast protein extracts. Once this allergy occurs, we apply the allergen to the patient’s warts. When the body’s immune system moves in to address the allergen, the hope is that it will also recognize the wart virus and create an immune response to the wart virus causing warts to go away. Immunotherapy works by using the patient’s immune system to destroy the warts Bleomycin, or Blenoxane, which can then be injected into the wart to kill the virus. Bleomycin is also used for treating some types of skin cancer.

Note that some of the treatments discussed in this article may not be suitable for those that are pregnant, or have other medical conditions at play. If you have warts seek guidance from a medical practitioner before deciding on a treatment plan to ensure the best results.

●        Other Treatments

If warts do not respond to standard treatments, a dermatologist, or skin specialist, may offer other options such as retinoids, derived from vitamin A, which disrupt the wart’s skin cell growth. Antibiotics are sometimes used in treatment but only in the case of infection.

Common warts, especially around the fingernails and toenails, may be difficult to eliminate completely or permanently. If the wart is gone but the virus remains, warts may recur. The good news is that many warts clear up without any treatment at all. It can take from a few weeks to several years, depending on the location and number of warts, and they usually disappear much faster in children and teens.

The practitioners at Idaho Skin Institute are experts in this type of skin condition, and since there is no one-size-fits-all approach, each treatment is tailored to the patient’s needs and severity of their symptoms. If you have this condition book an appointment at our clinic and let’s see how we can tailor a treatment plan to help.

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