If you've ever had warts before, you know firsthand that they can be unsightly and sometimes painful, not to mention embarrassing. Nevertheless, warts are a common occurrence, although many people might not know what causes them.
How do you get warts in the first place? And if you currently have a wart, how can you treat it? Here's a quick guide to everything you need to know to diagnose, treat, and prevent warts.
What Are Warts?
Warts are skin growths caused by a virus called human papillomavirus, or HPV. These growths are benign, meaning they're noncancerous, and they result from infections in the top layer of the skin. Warts tend to be skin-colored and rough to the touch, but they can be flat and smooth and occasionally have a dark brown or gray-black color. Sometimes, they appear with black, seedlike dots.
There are several different types of warts, which include:
- Common warts. These typically occur on the fingers, around the nails, and on the backs of the hands.
- Plantar warts. Also called foot warts, plantar warts occur on the soles of the feet. They sometimes develop in clusters; these are called mosaic warts. Because pressure from walking flattens them and causes them to grow inward, plantar warts can be quite painful.
- Flat warts. Occurring anywhere on the body, these small, smooth warts tend to grow in large numbers, often up to 100.
- Filiform warts. These warts show up on the face or around the mouth, eyes, and nose. They look quite distinctive from other types of warts, as they resemble long threads rather than bumps.
How Do You Get Warts?
Because wart viruses are highly contagious, people typically get warts by touching something that's been infected, such as a towel, the ground, or another person's wart. Shared bathrooms and other warm, moist environments tend to be hotbeds for HPV.
It's easier for your skin to become infected if it's cut or damaged in some way. For this reason, children commonly get warts. Also, men may be more prone to get warts on the face and women on their legs due to cuts from shaving. Warts on the fingers commonly occur from biting fingernails or picking at hangnails.
Wart Treatment Options
The wart virus has no cure, so warts can return at the same spot or appear somewhere else. However, you can treat warts yourself at home with salicylic acid or receive treatment from a dermatologist -- or they may go away on their own.
See a dermatologist if you have a weak immune system or diabetes. You should also seek medical attention if the wart:
- Occurs on your face or genitals.
- Doesn't go away with home treatment.
- Hurts, itches, burns, or bleeds.
- Looks like it may be something other than a wart.
If you do see a dermatologist, he or she may propose various treatment methods. These include cantharidin, which a dermatologist paints on and causes a blister to form under the wart to kill it, as well as cryotherapy (freezing off the wart), electrosurgery (burning it off), curettage (scraping it off), or excision (cutting it out). There are also laser treatments and chemical peels that may help, and certain forms of immunotherapy are an option.
Wart Prevention Tips
If you've never had a wart and would like to keep it that way, or if you want to prevent the virus from reoccurring or spreading, here are some tips that can help:
- Don't scratch or pick at warts.
- Wear shoes or flip-flops in shared bathroom areas.
- Don't touch active warts, whether they're your own or someone else's.
- Be sure to change your socks daily.
- Keep the wart and infected body part clean and dry.
- Avoid sharing towels or anything else that might touch someone else's active wart.
- Instruct your child to not touch anyone else's warts or other parts of their body with a finger that has an active wart.
Most importantly, you can rest easy knowing that your wart is benign and easily treatable. Speak with your doctor to determine the best course of action, and take preventive action to keep further warts at bay.