What are warts?

Warts are small, harmless topical growths caused by certain strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV). The virus normally enters the body through small open wounds like cuts and scrapes and expedites that area’s skin-cell production, resulting in small clusters of calloused skin. They are most commonly found on the hands and feet, and children are more likely to contract them than adults. Warts are contagious and sometimes sensitive, but they pose no health risks.

There are five primary types of warts:

  • Common warts: Most commonly found on the hands, these warts are circular, tough, and gray-brown in color.
  • Plantar warts: These warts grow on the bottoms of feet and toes. They are lightly colored, thick patches of skin sometimes dotted with black spots, and they can cause discomfort when walking.
  • Flat warts: These small warts usually grow on the face, arms, or legs. They are flat and can be pink, light brown, or light yellow.
  • Filiform warts: These flesh-colored warts usually grow around the mouth, nose, or jaw line and sometimes have string-like growths sticking out of them.
  • Periungual warts: These grow under or around fingernails and toenails. They have a bumpy texture and uneven borders.

How are they spread?

Warts are contagious and are spread through direct topical contact with the human papillomavirus. Once the wart is contracted, any other skin it makes contact with may also risk an outbreak. The virus thrives in warm, damp environments, so warts are often contracted from showers, locker room floors, and swimming pools. It can take 2 to 9 months after exposure to the virus for the wart to grow and become visible.

Sharing personal items like razors, towels, or shoes with a person with warts increases your risk of contracting them as well. However, not everyone contracts the virus upon contact with it, and some people are more susceptible to warts than others.

Diagnosis

If you find a skin growth you think might be a wart, a quick visit to the dermatologist will get you answers. A doctor can normally diagnosis warts upon basic inspection, but they can also do a quick skin biopsy and analyze it under a microscope if there is any uncertainty. Doctors often prefer biopsies if the wart exhibits any noticeable irregularities like discoloration, alarming size, fast growth, or any bleeding.

Treatment

Warts tend to go away on their own, especially for children as they age and enter adolescence. However, if you are bothered by how they look, are experiencing discomfort or sensitivity, or worry about spreading them to others, there are several treatment methods available over-the-counter or by prescription. Some choices include:

  • Salicylic acid or duct-tape treatments from home
  • A variety of topical creams, both over-the-counter and prescription
  • Freezing the wart through cryotherapy
  • Removing the wart through surgery (e.g. curettage, electrosurgery, or laser surgery)

Wart treatments do not always work, and some can cause more money, pain, and scarring than they’re worth, but if your warts are causing you unnecessary discomfort or stress, talk to your dermatologist to discuss treatment options.