A wart is a small growth that can appear anywhere on the body.

The human papillomavirus (HPV) family causes warts. These growths can appear anywhere on the body and are transmissible through touch. There are more than 100 types of HPV.

As many as one-third of children and teenagers are estimated to have warts, but only 3–5% of adults. People with a weakened immune system are at a higher risk for contracting an HPV strain leading to warts.

In this article, we discuss the various types of warts and how a person can treat them.

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Most warts clear up without treatment. But the time it takes a wart to disappear can vary.

The location and type of wart and the strength of a person’s immune system will all affect how long a wart will take to disappear.

This may happen within weeks or months of warts becoming visible but can take several years in some cases. Two-thirds of warts remedy within 2 years.

But if they do not disappear, or if a wart causes concern, medical help is available.

What treatments are available?

Before deciding on treatment, a doctor will typically examine the wart, ask about family history, and may take some tissue for tests.

Salicylic acid

A person may be able to treat their warts at home with salicylic acid. This is available over the counter (OTC) as creams, gels, paints, and medicated dressings. A person will typically have to apply salicylic acid daily for several weeks or even months.

In controlled medical settings, solutions with high concentrations of salicylic acid have been successful in clearing 62.7–86.5% of warts. OTC treatments are usually of lower strength, but may still be beneficial.

It is important to protect the skin around the wart before applying this treatment, as salicylic acid may destroy healthy skin. In addition, a person should not apply salicylic acid to their face.

There is a selection of salicylic acid treatments available for purchase online.

Cryotherapy

In cryotherapy, liquid nitrogen is sprayed or applied onto the wart, destroying the cells. A blister will then develop, scab over, and eventually fall off.

A healthcare professional must carry out cryotherapy. It is common for a person to need repeat treatments.

Surgery

It is uncommon for a doctor to recommend surgery for warts. Typically, a person will only undergo surgery if all other treatment options have proven ineffective.

Surgical options for removing warts include:

  • Excision: A doctor will cut or shave off a wart under local anesthesia.
  • Electrosurgery: This procedure burns wart tissue with an electric implement.
  • Laser treatment: A doctor will use a high-powered laser device to destroy wart tissue and remove any remains.

Surgical options can leave visible marks, whereas warts that disappear naturally do not leave scars.

Cantharidin

A doctor may apply cantharidin and other chemicals to warts.

This is painless, but it creates a blister that may be uncomfortable. As this blister forms, it lifts the wart from the skin. The doctor will then remove the dead part of the wart.

Candida antigen shots

Doctors can inject an extract of Candida albicans, an infectious yeast, into a wart. The person’s immune system will recognize the infection and attack the site.

Candida antigen shots can result in the total removal of warts. But the efficacy of the treatment can vary. A review found that success rates of wart removal can range between 39–87%.

Other treatments

If warts do not respond to standard treatments, a dermatologist, or skin specialist, may offer other options.

  • Bleomycin, or Blenoxane, an anticancer medication, can be injected into the wart.
  • Chemical peels can help remove flat warts.
  • Antibiotics are only effective in the case of infection.

Common warts, especially around the fingernails and toenails, may be difficult to eliminate completely or permanently.

The following are common types of warts.

Common warts (verruca vulgaris)

Common warts have a firm, raised, rough surface and may appear cauliflower-like.

They can occur anywhere, but they are most common on the fingers, near the nails, and on any area with broken skin.

Clotted blood vessels are often visible in common warts as small, darkened spots.

Plantar warts

Plantar warts, or verrucas, appear on the soles of the feet, heels, and toes.

They usually grow into the skin because the person’s weight pushes onto the sole of the foot. They typically have a small central black dot surrounded by hard, white tissue. Plantar warts are often difficult to clear.

Plane warts (verruca plana)

Plane warts are round, flat, and smooth. They can be yellowish, brownish, or the color of the person’s skin.

Also known as flat warts, they grow most often in sun-exposed areas.

They tend to grow in larger numbers, sometimes between 20–100 at once.

Filiform warts (verruca filiformis)

Filiform warts are long and thin in shape. They can grow rapidly on the face, neck, and eyelids.

Mosaic warts

Mosaic warts are multiple plantar warts in a single cluster. They typically occur under the toes and on the balls of the feet, but can spread across the foot.

When to contact a doctor

People should contact a doctor if a wart:

  • causes pain
  • bleeds easily
  • changes appearance
  • spreads easily to other parts of the body
  • comes back after past removal

Individuals who want a wart removed for cosmetic reasons should also contact a doctor.

HPV causes the excessive and rapid growth of keratin, which is a hard protein on the top layer of the skin. This results in warts forming.

Different HPV strains cause different warts. These strains can transmit through close skin-to-skin contact and contact with items recently exposed to HPV.

The virus can spread to other parts of the body through:

  • scratching or biting a wart
  • sucking fingers
  • biting fingernails, if there are warts around the nails
  • shaving the face or legs

Having wet or damaged skin, such as a cut or scrape, increases the risk of infection.

For example, a person with cuts on their feet is more likely to develop a verruca from visiting public swimming pools.

The transmission risk of warts is low in adults and higher in children and infants. People with a compromised or suppressed immune system have a higher risk for contracting an HPV strain leading to warts.

People who work with raw meat, such as butchers, also have a higher risk for developing warts.

Genital warts

Some strains of HPV can cause warts on, in, or around the genitals.

While genital warts themselves are not harmful, they can significantly impact a person’s quality of life and transmit through intercourse.

Other transmissible HPV strains can lead to cervical, anal, penile, and vulvovaginal cancer. But these are not the strains that cause genital warts, although a person may carry and transmit multiple strains at once.

Anyone who develops genital warts should contact their doctor for assessment.

A person with warts may be able to treat them at home.

Warts typically disappear independently, so maintaining good hygiene and helping prevent further infection is an important first step in self-remedies.

Products containing salicylic acid are available for home use. A person may be able to treat warts effectively using OTC products.

Some people may recommend other remedies, such as putting duct tape on warts and certain forms of hypnosis. But these remedies are purely anecdotal and have no medical benefit nor support.

If a person is worried about their warts, they should contact their doctor.

A person can help reduce their risk for catching or spreading warts.

Some rules to follow include:

  • Do not touch other people’s warts.
  • Do not use other people’s towels, washcloths, or other personal items.
  • Do not share shoes or socks with other people.
  • Do not scratch warts or verrucae.
  • Wear sandals when entering and exiting communal showers and pools.
  • Do not brush, comb, shave, or clip hair in areas that have warts.
  • When filing or cutting nails, do not use the same utensil on the infected nail and the healthy nails.
  • Keep hands as dry as possible.
  • Wash hands thoroughly after touching a wart.

Warts are abnormal growths on the skin. They occur when an HPV strain infects the skin and causes rapid cell growth. Warts are common and often harmless, but they may lead to feelings of embarrassment.

Warts can occur anywhere on the body and can appear as hardened lumps, flat circular patches, or thread-like protrusions. They typically heal and disappear on their own, but surgical options are available for faster removal.

Treatment options may involve applying salicylic acid, cryotherapy, laser treatment, immunotherapy, electrosurgery, and excision.