Symptoms of Warts

  • A benign, small growth on the skin, typically on the hands
  • May be pale or dark, rough or smooth, raised or flat; warts seldom bleed or itch
  • Usually painless, although plantar warts, located on the soles of the feet, can be quite painful

What Is a Wart?

Warts are benign tumors in the outer skin layer caused by the human papilloma virus. They can occur anywhere on the body, but they look different depending on where they grow. Warts typically appear on fingers and tops of hands, where they protrude as dry growths with a horny surface.

On pressure areas such as the palms and soles, they grow inward. One of the most painful types is the plantar wart, a light-colored, flat growth on the sole of the foot that extends below the surface of the skin.

Ordinary warts are slightly contagious; they spread most commonly from one location to another—for example, from finger to finger—on an infected person, rather than from person to person another: that old story about toads causing warts in people is just a myth. (The bumps on toads and frogs, though wartlike in appearance, are unrelated to actual warts, which are found only on humans.) Warts are most common among children and young adults.

What Causes Warts?

Warts are caused by strains of human papilloma virus that can enter the skin through tiny breaks, cuts, or scratches and can be transmitted by direct physical contact with another person. Plantar warts may be spread through swimming pools or showers.

What if You Do Nothing about Warts?

Nongenital warts are harmless, and the best treatment for them may be no treatment at all. Up to 80 percent of nongenital warts disappear by themselves in one or two years (typically two years, at least in children). And because plantar warts can make walking uncomfortable, they, too, may need medical attention.

Unfortunately, warts that have gone away (a process known as spontaneous remission) can also return just as mysteriously.

Home Remedies for Warts

If you think you have a wart, it’s a good idea to see a doctor for evaluation, since it might be another condition, such as a skin cancer. If it is a wart, deciding whether to treat it comes down to whether it interferes with your walking or running, or whether it is causing social problems. If not, then it may be best to leave the wart alone. Never cut a wart yourself, as there is a risk of bleeding, infection, and scarring.

The fact that most warts disappear on their own has bred all kinds of legends and given credence to hundreds of home remedies. Huckleberry Finn recommended handling dead cats as a treatment for warts, and Tom Sawyer believed that spunk-water (stagnant water in an old tree stump) could cure warts, at least if you approached the stump backward at midnight and recited the proper spell. Here are some remedies that have proven to be somewhat more effective.

Tape it. This is an inexpensive, noninvasive, and popular remedy. Wrap the area in several layers of waterproof tape and leave it on for one week. Repeat the treatment. Sometimes the wart goes away.

Try a wart removal preparation. Drugstores sell salicylic acid products for the removal of warts. If you decide to try one of these be sure to protect the surrounding skin, since it can get burned. Do not use these remedies on facial, genital, or anal warts.

Paint on the low-strength salicylic acid recommended by your physician or pharmacist. The medication may take weeks to produce favorable results.

Prevention of Warts

  • Don’t cut or scratch. Warts can easily spread if cut or scratched.
  • Wear shower shoes. Plantar warts may be spread through moist environments like swimming pools or showers. Sandals or shower shoes at poolside or in locker rooms can keep you from spreading or exposing yourself to such a wart.

When to Call Your Doctor about Warts

It’s a good idea to have your doctor confirm that a wartlike growth is indeed a wart. Also contact your physician if warts develop on the sole of the foot and cause walking difficulties.

What Your Doctor Will Do

If it is a wart, the safest way to remove it is to have it done by a doctor. There are various methods, including electricity, laser treatment, surgery with a scalpel, and freezing. Cryotherapy (freezing) with liquid nitrogen is generally preferred. Plantar warts, which mainly lie below the skin surface, often require the use of local anesthesia for removal.

For More Information about Warts

  • American Academy of Dermatology

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at HealthCommunities.com

Published: 10 Aug 2010

Last Modified: 30 Oct 2014