What are warts?
Warts are noncancerous skin growths. They also grow on mucous membranes in the mouth and genitals. Warts are contagious and can spread by contact with the wart or something that came in contact with the wart. Most warts are grey, brown, or skin colored.
Common warts typically appear on the fingers and hands. Plantar warts are found on the soles of the feet. Genital warts are sexually transmitted, and flat warts are common in areas that are shaved regularly. Warts are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV). Common warts are not necessarily dangerous, but they are unsightly and contagious.
There are over 100 types of HPV. Some cause common warts. Some cause plantar warts, and some cause genital warts. Warts can affect people of any age, but are most common in the early teenage years. 10% of the population have warts. 20% of school children are affected by warts. People with HIV or organ transplant recipients and patients on chemotherapy have a higher risk.
Types of warts
- Common warts look like small, rough growths or bumps and can have tiny black dots or “seeds” in them. They may be flesh colored, white, pink or tan. Warts are caused by skin to skin contact with a person who has warts. People with warts can spread them indirectly by coming in contact with a towel or exercise equipment. They spread through breaks in the skin, hangnails and/or a scrape. Common warts affect children and young adults and people with a weak immune system. You should see a dermatologist if your warts become painful, or change color or appearance, or because they look unsightly or interfere with normal activities.
- Plantar Warts appear on the soles of the feet when the skin is infected with the HPV virus. Plantar warts can look like a callus with thick skin. They are painful when walking or standing, of when pressed or squeezed. They can grow in clusters and grow inward. Tiny black dots appear on the surface of these warts. These warts grow deep into the skin.
- Flat warts can appear anywhere. They are usually skin colored, and only slightly raised. The usually grown in large numbers. Children often get them on the face. Men get them in the beard area. Women get them on their legs.
- Filiform warts often form around the eyelids and lips, so they can be called facial warts. But they can also be found in sensitive areas like skin folds, on the neck, fingers and legs. They are also caused by the HPV virus, are contagious, and easily spread to other parts of the body. Filiform warts grow on “stalks”. They can be most any color and do not form in clusters. These warts cause itching, bleeding, soreness and irritation.
- Genital warts are common and are caused by certain types of HPV. Genital warts can be annoying, but they’re treatable and aren’t dangerous. Genital warts show up on the skin around your genitals and anus. They’re caused by certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV). You might’ve heard that some types of HPV can cause cancer, but they’re NOT the same kinds that give you genital warts. HPV is the most common STD, but most of the time it goes away on its own. Sometimes certain types of “high-risk” HPV can develop into cancer if left untreated. Other “low-risk” types of HPV can cause warts on your vulva, vagina, cervix, rectum, anus, penis or scrotum. Genital warts are common — about 360,000 people get them each year.
How are warts treated?
- Common warts are treated with peeling medications like salicylic acid, or prescription medications, freezing, laser treatments and surgical removal.
- Plantar warts are treated with topical or oral medications, laser therapy, freezing, acids or surgery. The goal is to remove the entire wart. It is important to see your dermatologist for treatment, as home remedies may cause harm.
- Filiform warts can be removed with excision, surgery, electrosurgery, or freezing with liquid nitrogen. These warts can also be treated with Cantharidin, which causes the wart to die, after which the dermatologist will remove the wart. They may be difficult to treat and require laser treatments, chemical peels and injections.
- Genital warts are treated with topical medications, freezing, excision, surgery, lasers, or electrosurgery.
Patients may try to treat their warts at home, and there are some common remedies like duct tape and salicylic acid in low doses that can work. Patients should not seek to treat their genital warts at home. Warts are contagious, therefore attempting at home treatment can spread warts. Sometimes a wart can be confused with a more dangerous mole. See Dr. M. David Cole at Horizon Dermatology and Laser Institute. He has the expertise to diagnose warts properly and the tools to safely remove warts.