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Definition

What are common warts?

Common warts are small, grainy skin growths that occur most often on your fingers or hands. Rough to the touch, common warts also often feature a pattern of tiny black dots — sometimes called seeds — which are small, clotted blood vessels.

How common are common warts?

Children and young adults are more likely to develop common warts, as are people who have weakened immune systems. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of common warts?

The common symptoms of common warts are:

  • Small, fleshy, grainy bumps
  • Flesh-colored, white, pink or tan
  • Rough to the touch
  • Sprinkled with black pinpoints, which are small, clotted blood vessels

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

You should contact your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • You aren’t sure if a skin growth is a wart. If you are older than age 60 and have never had warts, consider seeing your family doctor or other health professional to check for skin cancer.
  • Nonprescription home treatment isn’t successful after 2 to 3 months.
  • Warts are growing or spreading rapidly despite treatment.
  • Signs of bacterial infection develop, including:
  • Increased pain, swelling, redness, tenderness, or heat.
  • Red streaks extending from the area.
  • Discharge of pus.
  • Fever.
  • A plantar wart becomes too painful to walk on.
  • You have diabetes or peripheral arterial disease and you need treatment for a wart on a leg or foot.
  • You have warts on your genitals or around the anus.

Causes

What causes common warts?

Common warts are caused by an infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV). More than 100 types of HPV exist, but only a few cause warts on your hands. Other types of HPV are more likely to cause warts on your feet and other areas of your skin and mucous membranes. Most types of HPV cause relatively harmless conditions such as common warts, while others may cause serious disease such as cancer of the cervix.

You can get warts from skin-to-skin contact with people who have warts. If you have warts, you can spread the virus to other places on your own body. You can also get the wart virus indirectly by touching something that another person’s wart touched, such as a towel or exercise equipment. The virus usually spreads through breaks in your skin, such as a hangnail or a scrape. Biting your nails also can cause warts to spread on your fingertips and around your nails.

Each person’s immune system responds to the HPV virus differently, so not everyone who comes in contact with HPV develops warts.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for common warts?

There are many risk factors for common warts, such as:

  • Children and young adults

People with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS or people who’ve had organ transplants

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How are common warts diagnosed?

Warts are usually diagnosed based only on their appearance.

In rare cases, more testing is done. If the diagnosis of a skin condition is unclear or if you are at high risk for having skin cancer, your doctor may take a sample of the growth and examine it (a skin biopsy). A biopsy is usually done if a skin growth is darker than the skin surrounding it, appears as an irregular patch on the skin, bleeds, or is large and growing rapidly.

How are common warts treated?

Most common warts go away without treatment, though it may take a year or two and new ones may develop nearby.

Some people choose to have their warts treated by a doctor because home treatment isn’t working and the warts are bothersome, spreading or a cosmetic concern.

Your doctor may suggest one of the following approaches, based on the location of your warts, your symptoms and your preferences. These methods are sometimes used in combination with home treatments, such as salicylic acid.

The goals of treatment are to destroy the wart, stimulate an immune system response to fight the virus, or both. Treatment may take weeks or months. Even with treatment, warts tend to recur or spread. Doctors generally start with the least painful methods, especially when treating young children.

  • Stronger peeling medicine (salicylic acid). Prescription-strength wart medications with salicylic acid work by removing layers of a wart a little bit at a time. Studies show that salicylic acid is more effective when combined with freezing.
  • Freezing (cryotherapy). Freezing therapy done at a doctor’s office involves applying liquid nitrogen to your wart. Freezing works by causing a blister to form under and around your wart. Then, the dead tissue sloughs off within a week or so. This method may also stimulate your immune system to fight viral warts. You may need repeat treatments. Side effects of cryotherapy include pain, blistering and discolored skin in the treated area.
  • Other acids. If salicylic acid or freezing isn’t working, your doctor may try bichloroacetic or trichloroacetic acid. With this method, the doctor first shaves the surface of the wart and then applies the acid with a wooden toothpick. It requires repeat treatments every week or so. Side effects are burning and stinging.
  • Laser treatment. Pulsed-dye laser treatment burns (cauterizes) tiny blood vessels. The infected tissue eventually dies, and the wart falls off. The evidence for the effectiveness of this method is limited, and it can cause pain and scarring.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage common warts?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with common warts:

  • Peeling medicine (salicylic acid). Nonprescription wart removal products such as salicylic acid are available as a patch or a liquid. For common warts, look for a 17 percent salicylic acid solution or a 15 percent patch. These products require daily use, often for a few weeks. For best results, soak your wart in warm water for 10 to 20 minutes before applying the medication. File away any dead skin with a disposable emery board or a pumice stone between treatments.
  • Some liquid nitrogen products are available in nonprescription liquid or spray form. The Food and Drug Administration cautions that some wart removers are flammable and shouldn’t be used around fire, flame, heat sources (such as curling irons) and lit cigarettes.
  • Duct tape. Cover the wart with silver duct tape for six days. Then soak it in water and gently remove dead tissue with a pumice stone or disposable emery board. Leave the wart exposed for about 12 hours, and then repeat the process until the wart is gone.Study results have been mixed on the effectiveness of duct tape in removing warts, either alone or with other therapies.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: September 25, 2017 | Last Modified: September 25, 2017

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