Treatment for Warts

There is no single effective treatment for warts; management is based on the age of the individual as well as the size, number, and location of warts. Common warts, especially in children, do not necessarily need to be treated, because they exhibit a high rate of spontaneous remission. Without treatment, however, spread can occur.

Treatment involves the physical or chemical destruction of the lesion. In physical destruction, liquid nitrogen, which is extremely cold, is sprayed onto the wart or applied with a cotton-tipped swab. Because freezing is painful, this form of treatment is not tolerated well by young children. Warts can be anesthetized and then scraped (curetted), burned (desiccated), lasered off, or surgically cut out (excised).

A variety of chemicals are used to eradicate warts. Genital warts respond to a topical resin, podophyllin, applied in strong concentration at regular intervals by the doctor, or a prescription gel (Condylox) to be used at home. Cantharin, an extract from a blistering beetle, is used alone or in combination with podophyllin to treat warts.

Over-the-counter preparations of salicylic acid are sometimes used. Imiquimod cream (Aldara) is approved as a prescription for enhancing the immune response to warts, thus helping the body fight the human papilloma virus.

A dilution of bleomycin, a medication used in chemotherapy, can be effective when injected into warts that are resistant to other treatments.

Despite numerous treatment modalities, warts sometimes require repeated treatment because they are difficult to eradicate and commonly recur. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), some over-the-counter products are extremely flammable and can cause burns and, in rare cases, start a fire. They should be used with caution and only as directed.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 31 Aug 2000

Last Modified: 13 Oct 2015