Warts are small, rough, hard, flesh-colored skin growths. They are a symptom of a benign, superficial viral infection caused by the family of human papilloma viruses (HPV). The HPV virus is responsible for many common viral infections. Though overall not harmful, warts are contagious and can be spread by direct contact. They affect about 10% of Americans. Warts are more common in children, than adults.
What are warts?
Warts tend to develop on the hands and feet, and knees and elbows, but can also be found under and around the fingernails and toenails. However, wherever skin is present, there is the potential to grow a wart. They look like calluses but may contain black dots that look like little seed. Warts on the fingers often develop as a result of a break in the skin (like a hang nail or scratch), through which the virus enters the skin. 10 -20% of children have common warts. Behaviors such as picking at or biting fingernails will increase the chances of developing a wart in those areas. Warts can also be spread in areas of shaving, including the beard area in men and on the lower legs in women.
Warts grow slowly and are contagious. They easily spread to other areas of the body, and to other people. While most warts are harmless, they can be difficult to eliminate. Topical therapies can take at least three months to work and can be painful. Despite multiple treatment options there is no single recommended treatment.
Some small warts can disappear on their own. However, because they are contagious, all warts should be treated to prevent spread. Over the counter treatments with salicylic acid help to slough off the top layers of the wart. However, they’re not always effective in killing the living cells that contain the virus. When the home treatments fail to work, or the wart is painful, grows larger, bleeds, or spreads, it should be treated with more effective methods.
What are the treatment options for warts?
Warts often resolve without treatment, especially in children. Treatment should be considered for the following reasons: the wart is not resolving, it is painful, there are many and they are spreading. Common treatment options include:
- Cryotherapy: Liquid nitrogen is used to freeze the upper layers of the skin and kill the skin cells containing the virus. This process causes a mild amount if discomfort. A blister can develop underneath the wart before the wart falls off.
- Cantharidin: This liquid may be “painted on” the wart, causing a blister to form underneath. This process is not painful.
- Excision: Warts may be numbed and cut out
For evaluation and consideration for treatment options, consult Dr. Ryan Schuering at his office in Stuart, Florida.