Warts are very common at all ages, and they are typically harmless. Here’s some information on this common dermatology issue and how we treat it. At Signature Plastic Surgery, our dermatologist Dr. Booth has various topical medications and therapies for warts.
What are warts?
Common warts are caused by a virus. These small growths usually form on the feet or hands but can happen anywhere on the body. Most people want them removed as they can make them feel self-conscious.
What causes warts to develop?
Common warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). The virus is very common and has over 150 types. A few cause warts on the hands, toes, and other places. While some forms of HPV are spread through sexual contact and are the focus of the HPV vaccine, most forms of the virus, including those that lead to warts, are spread by casual skin contact or through shared towels and such. The virus often spreads to a person through a break in the skin, such as a hangnail. This is how warts can spread on the hands through fingernail biting.
symptoms of warts
Warts invariably are painless but have symptoms. These are their characteristics:
- Small, fleshy, grainy bumps
- Flesh-colored, white, pink, or tan in color
- Rough to the touch
- Sprinkled with black pinpoints
Who is most likely to develop warts?
Everyone’s immune system responds to different viruses differently, and the HPV virus is no different. Children and young adults are more likely to develop warts because their immunity to HPV hasn’t built up to the degree to ward off the virus. For the same reason people with weakened immune systems also develop warts.
How are warts removed?
Some warts will go away as the virus runs its course, but this may take a couple years and is more common with children. Most people will need some kind of dermatology treatment to remove them. These skin treatments include the following:
- Topical medications —Salicylic acid removes layers of the wart a little at a time. Other treatments turn on your immune system to attact the warts.
- Cryotherapy — Liquid nitrogen is sprayed onto the wart and around it slightly. This causes the skin around and under the wart to blister and then slough off, hopefully with the wart. It may take more than one treatment.
- Minor surgery — Dr. Booth may use a curette, a curved blade tool, to scrape away the wart. This can leave a slight scar.
- Electrocauterization — A needle with electric current is used to cauterize/burn the wart tissue. This causes the wart to die and peel away.
Are warts contagious?
While you can’t catch warts by handling toads (a common misconception), they are contagious from human to human. The virus spreads through skin contact — usually a break in the skin provides access to the virus. If you share a towel or washcloth, that can spread the virus to another person, who can then develop a wart. Warts can also spread on a person from one hand or finger to another.
Can I prevent warts?
Warts are common, but you can limit your chances of developing one:
- Avoid direct contact with warts, whether yours or someone else’s.
- Don’t pick at warts; this can spread the virus.
- Don’t use the same emery board, pumice stone, or nail clipper on a wart and then on your healthy skin.
- Don’t bite your fingernails. Creating hangnails and the like around your fingertips opens the door for the virus to enter.
- Don’t groom them. Don’t shave or clip them, as you’re only likely to spread the virus.