Warts - To Treat or Not to Treat
Warts are non-cancerous skin growths. They are caused by a viral infection in the upper layers of the skin. There is no treatment that kills the wart virus itself. Warts are very common and generally do not pose a health threat. In fact, most warts do not need treatment and will go away by themselves within months to a few years.
What does a wart look like?
Many warts are easy to recognize. They often have a rough raised surface and sometimes occur in clusters. Warts can be pink, white, flesh-colored or brown.
Where do warts appear?
Hands and feet are the most common places to find warts. When they occur on the face, leg or arms, they are often small and nearly flat. They may also occur on the genital or rectal areas. Warts on the bottom of the feet are called plantar warts.
Can I treat warts myself?
The goal of treatment is to kill the skin that contains the wart virus. Most people can safely self-treat common warts on the hands, feet, arms, and legs. People who have diabetes, circulation problems or poor healing, should see their health care provider before any self treatment.
Salicylic acid home treatment (17% concentration, 40% for feet only) is a good treatment to try first. It is often very effective, especially if used for 2-3 months. Salicylic acid can be found at any drugstore.
The duct tape method (adhesiotherapy) can also work well. Cloth trainers’ tape may be used instead of duct tape. This method involves leaving duct tape over the warts for up to 6 days. On day seven, peel away the tape, and soak the wart. Then gently sand away the loose surface tissue with an emery board or pumice stone. Leave the wart exposed to air for one day per week in order to help reduce irritation of the skin around the wart. Repeat this process for up to three months.
Warts that are frozen will often get a blister or blood blister within 1 or 2 days. If a blister appears, soak the skin in warm, soapy water, and then gently open the blister. Sometimes a ring of warts will grow around a wart that is treated. Wart liquids and plaster often turn the skin white. Every 2-or 3 days, soak the wart in warm water for 30-60 minutes. Then rub off the dead white skin with a washcloth. Cutting the wart is likely to spread the wart.
Overnight wart treatment
- Soak in hot water out of tap for 3-5 minutes until the skin is soft and wrinkled. The water should be hot enough so you have to ease into it. If you have a thermometer the water should be about 45° Centigrade or 113° Fahrenheit.
- Trim dead wart tissue with scraper, a pumice stone, or other instruments with which you feel comfortable.
- Apply Duofilm® or other medicine that contains salicylic acid. Topical medicine that contains salicylic acid can soften and remove the top layer of skin where the virus grows.
- After the medicine has dried, cover the wart with adhesive tape and leave on overnight.
- Repeat the treatment as tolerated. If the wart becomes tender, inflamed or red, skip the treatment until the irritation goes away. A treatment every other or every third day may be enough.
- If you are coming into the office for a follow-up visit, leave the tapes on the day when you come to the office.
Sometimes an allergy to the medicine can occur. If severe redness, itching, or blisters develop, stop the treatment and call the office.
When should I seek medical advice for warts?
If these home treatments do not work, you may want to see your health care provider.
If you have a skin growth and are not sure if it is a wart, contact your health care provider. Do not use home treatments, which may irritate and cause damage to growths that are not warts.
If you have a wart in the facial, genital, or rectal area, do not treat it yourself. See your health care provider. Facial warts should be checked to make sure they are not pre-cancerous skin growths. Genital warts in most cases need treatment. Cancer has sometimes been associated with warts in this part of the body.
Seek medical treatment if the warts are painful or spreading.
What kind of medical treatment is offered?
There are quite a few options. Prescription topical treatments may be offered. Imiquimod (Aldara®) cream will cause the skin cells to make interferon, the body’s natural war virus-fighting chemical. You must apply it daily to each wart, often for 4-8 weeks. When the wart gets red, you may stop treating that wart with the cream.
Cryosurgery (liquid nitrogen), or laser treatment may be used. Some treatments can be painful and often need more than one treatment session. Treatment can sometimes stimulate the warts to get bigger. Scars are likely after some treatments. There may be blisters, open sores, and activity restrictions after treatment. Even if successfully removed, warts can come back.
Where can I learn more?
The American Academy of Dermatology at http://www.aad.org is a good source of information about warts.
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 10/09/2008
Copyright © 10/09/2008 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#6496
Print Health Fact For You