Warts: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment Options
Warts are very common, with over three million documented cases per year. However, regardless of how common they are, having a wart can leave you feeling self-conscious, especially when they’re difficult to cover up in areas like your hands.
But warts are easy to remove.
Interested in learning more? Read on to discover everything you need to know about warts.
What Exactly are Warts?
A wart, or verruca, is a small, fleshy bump on the skin or a mucous membrane caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). Many different types of warts can appear anywhere on the body — in particular, the genitals, feet, and hands.
With the exception of a type of wart that grows on the bottom of the feet, warts are pretty painless. They are contagious, however, and can spread pretty quickly from one area of the body to another, or from one person to another person through close contact, such as a hug, fist bump, or handshake.
So you’re saying anyone can get one?
Yup. Anyone can get warts, but some people are more prone to get them than others.
Also, warts are much more common in kids, in those who bite or pick at their nails or cuticles, and in individuals with a compromised immune system.
As we mentioned, warts are contagious because they are caused by a virus. You can get a wart by directly touching one or touching something that has come in contact with one. You're much more likely to get warts if you have a scrape or cut in your skin.
Excessive moisture can cause tiny breaks in your delicate skin barrier, so common areas to contract them occur in locker rooms, hot tubs, and pools.
Each person’s immune system responds a little differently to the virus—which explains why not everyone who contacts a wart actually develops one.
Symptoms of Warts
Common warts usually occur on the hands or feet and may be:
Small, fleshy, grainy bumps
Rough to the touch
Flesh-colored, pink, white, or tan
Sprinkled with black pinpoints -- which are just small, clotted blood vessels
Types of Warts
There are seven main types of warts:
Common warts are, well, common. Usually found on the knees, elbows, or hands, common wards are raised bumps with some appearing like a cauliflower.
These troublesome warts occur mostly on the soles of your feet.
They tend to grow deep, and they’re also often surrounded by a thick callus. Because they’re usually on the weight-bearing parts of the feet, plantar warts tend to be more painful than other types of warts.
The surface of these tiny growths -- also called plane warts -- is flat or rounded and smooth.
They appear in clusters of a few dozen to a hundred. They’re more common on light-exposed areas of the face and back of the hands.
Flat warts often appear in the beard area for some folks, while others tend to get them on their legs. These are both problematic areas if you shave, since it can inadvertently create an entire trail of warts, typically in the direction you shave.
Mosaic warts are a cluster of smaller warts that are grouped together and are often found on the soles and palms.
These warts grow super fast and look thread-like and spiky.
Filiform warts can be more problematic than others since they tend to grow on the face around your eyes, nose, and mouth.
Rough and irregularly-shaped, these tiny warts develop around toenails and fingernails. They may extend beneath the nail, which can cause pain and ultimately disrupt normal nail growth.
There are more than 150 strains of HPV. Two strains in particular -- types 6 and 11 -- cause around 90 percent of genital warts in the U.S.
You can find these benign warts in the cervix, around the vulva, in the vagina, and in the anus. They can also appear in the throat and mouth if they are spread through skin-to-skin contact.
Some strains of HPV can cause cancer, which is why getting any bumps down south checked out is of the utmost importance. Take care of yourself, always.
How to Treat Warts
While there is no current cure for HPV (and therefore no way to completely “cure” your wart), treating warts is relatively simple in most cases.
For common warts on the feet and hands, the typical treatment is liquid nitrogen cryotherapy. This is when a doctor sprays liquid nitrogen directly on the wart. The process freezes the wart to 192 degrees below zero, which stings as the top of the wart dies before crusting up and finally falling off.
It’s a two-pronged approach.
Not only is the doctor attacking the wart from the outside, but the freezing is designed to cause inflammation, triggering your body to attack the wart from the inside out.
Other methods your doc might use include: burning the wart off with an electrical current or laser therapy, which simply zaps the wart and surrounding cells.
Topical treatments are also useful wart wranglers. These are typically super-strength salicylic acid treatments, which you can get OTC or via prescription from your doc. These effective treatments take the same approach as freezing-- they both try to kill the wart and stir up local immunity.
For genital warts, it is best to make an appointment with your gynecologist. They can prescribe a treatment and make sure you’re taking the proper steps to screen for HPV-related cancer.
There is some debate among doctors about whether warts technically need to be treated at all. Why? Well, many HPV infections go away on their own over time, but since warts are super contagious, not treating them means you could easily spread the infection to other people or other areas of your own body.
How to Prevent Warts
Though warts can’t exactly be prevented, there are several measures you can take to minimize your risk of acquiring one.
One of the most important things you can do is to thoroughly wash your hands -- and often! Also, try to keep your skin healthy, hydrated, and free of cuts. If you bite your nails, do your best to stop. Biting nails creates tiny openings for bacteria and viruses to enter your skin, which can quickly result in warts. Use clean towels at the gym or in other public locations, and always wear rubber-soled sandals or flip-flops in public showers and locker rooms.
Here are a few more tips to reduce the risk of catching or spreading warts:
Don’t touch other people’s warts.
Don’t share socks and shoes with other people.
Don’t scratch warts, as this can cause them to spread.
Cover warts with a waterproof covering when swimming.
Don’t brush, shave, comb, or clip hair in areas that have warts.
Keep hands as dry as possible.
Wants can be a lot. If you are bothered by them, it may be comforting to know that you are not alone, and better yet, that there are simple and effective ways to deal with them.
Do keep in mind, however, that they are contagious, and in rare cases, a more serious problem, such as skin cancer, may resemble a wart.
So even if you aren’t bothered when a wart appears, it can’t hurt to have a dermatologist take a quick peek and direct you on how to best deal with it. Taking care of your skin is essential.
That’s why we love using the skincare products from Topicals, an honest and reputable company that is much more than beauty and skincare. We’re a new standard — medicated botanicals.
Here at Topicals, we only use science-backed ingredients and herbals that work with your skin—not against it—to help you feel comfortable and confident. Whether you’re looking to hydrate parched skin or smooth a spotty complexion, we’ve got your back!