Warts: What You Need To Know

By Medically reviewed by Panel Perubatan Hello Doktor

In this article:

  • Definition
  • Signs & symptoms
  • Causes
  • Risk factors
  • Treatment
  • Lifestyle changes & home remedies

Warts are a common skin disease caused by viruses. Depending on the location of this skin lesion, the causative agent varies. It is not only unsightly but also uncomfortable because treatment is time-consuming and the risk of recurrence is high. It is spread through physical contact, and if contracted sexually, it is called genital warts (also known as genital herpes). The current treatments are quite safe and easily accessible at dermatologic clinics. 

Definition

What are they?


Warts are caused by an infection whereby one of the many viruses of the human papillomavirus (HPV) family triggers extra cell growth. Different types of viruses cause this skin lesion to appear in different parts of the body.

Common warts that appear on the hands, arms, and legs appear in the shape of a cauliflower. Periungual warts usually occur around the nails. Flat warts that occur on the face, knees, and elbows among children and young women are flat and flesh-colored. Genital or anal warts are sexually transmitted. Plantar warts are usually only found on the soles of the feet. Filiform warts are small and thread-like warts, commonly found on the face.

Who can get it?

It is very common, especially in people aged 10 to 20 years. Most cases (up to 65%) would go away on their own within 2 years without treatment. However, recurrence may warrant a visit to the doctor’s.

Signs & symptoms

What are the signs and symptoms?

It often irritate the skin and may cause bleeding if they occur on the face or head. Plantar warts can break and be painful while walking.

There may be other symptoms that could show when you have warts. Please consult a doctor if you experience any abnormalities. 

When do you need to see a doctor?

Seek medical help if you experience any of the following:

  • You are not sure if the extra cell growth is a wart. If you are over 60 and have never had warts, visit a doctor to check if your condition is cancer-related (skin cancer).
  • Home treatment with over-the-counter medications has not been effective after 2 to 3 months.
  • It grows or spreads rapidly even in the treatment phase.
  • Signs of a bacterial infection which include soreness, swelling, redness, pus or fever.
  • Plantar warts cause severe pain which prevents you from walking.
  • You have diabetes or peripheral artery disease and it can occur on your lower legs or feet.
  • You have genital or anal warts.

Causes

What causes it?

It can spread from a person to another by scratching or picking at the warts. These skin lesions are most likely to infect another person who has moist and soft or injured skin.

Risk factors

What factors increase the risk of this skin lesion?

There are many factors that can increase the risk of getting this skin lesion, and they include:

  • Age: It often occur among young children and teenagers
  • People with weak immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS or those who have had an organ transplant
  • Walking barefoot on wet surfaces, such as in bathrooms or public changing rooms at the pool
  • Sharing towels, razors, and other personal items
  • Biting nails and skin around the nails
  • Sweaty feet caused by wearing tight shoes.

Treatment

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

How is it treated?

It is often successfully treated but they are not always completely cured. The treatment itself can cause complications such as soreness, infection or scarring. However, if it doesn’t cause any pain, treatment may not be required. To stop it from spreading further, ensure that they are concealed when in public places.

Treatment depends on the location of warts. Common warts that are on the arms, hands, and legs can be treated by applying salicylic acid solution twice a day until dead skin is removed. Foot warts can be treated with 40% salicylic acid pads. Flat form of this skin lesion are often treated with chemical peels using tretinoin or 5-fluorouracil cream. In the case of genital warts, both partners need to visit a doctor.

If these treatments are not effective, the doctor would prescribe stronger medications such as imiquimod cream or trichloroacetic acid (TCA peel). Other methods include cryotherapy, injections with medications that stimulate the immune system, electrosurgery or curettage.

How is it diagnosed?

A doctor would make a diagnosis by examining the skin. If the examination is not enough to form a diagnosis, the doctor would take a sample of a wart (biopsy) to examine under a microscope.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What living habits help to slow the progression of warts?

The following lifestyle changes & home remedies may help you slow the progression of warts:

  • Wash your hands carefully, especially after touching this skin lesion to avoid spreading the virus.
  • Seek medical help if the wart cannot be treated with over-the-counter salicylic acid solution.
  • Seek medical help if the condition does not improve after weeks of treatment.

In addition, to prevent and reduce the risk of warts, you should do the following:

  • Do not bite your nails. It often appear when skin is damaged. Biting the skin around the nail gives the virus a chance to get into the skin.
  • Take care of your skin diligently. To avoid spreading the virus, do not brush, cut, or scrape areas where the skin lesions are located. If you have to shave, use an electric shaver.
  • Do not share personal items. The virus can be transmitted from personal belongings.
  • Do not pick at the warts. They should be covered with a bandage.
  • Avoid direct contact with warts, even if they are yours.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after being in contact with this skin lesion or shared items.
  • Avoid walking barefoot on wet surfaces. Wear flip-flops when in a communal bathing facility, changing room or public pool.
  • Keep your feet dry. If your feet sweat, change socks regularly.
  • Avoid sole injuries. It can often develop easily where skin is damaged.

It can be treated with topical, laser, and minor surgeries. However, you need to see a dermatologist to be accurately diagnosed since it could be a sign of other dangerous skin conditions such as skin cancer. In the case of genital warts, the best way to prevent its occurrence is to use condoms during sexual intercourse.

At present, there are vaccines to prevent certain strains of HPV that cause genital warts and cervical cancer in women. You may visit local health facilities for more information.

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

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