Common Warts

1 What are Common Warts?

Common warts are small, raised and rough skin growths that mostly appear on your fingers or hands.

Common warts have characteristic small dots, called seeds which appear black due to clotted vessels.

Virus can cause common warts. Common warts mostly develop in children, young adults and people with impaired immune system.

They usually spread by touch. Common warts generally go away without any treatment, but many people who find the warts annoying or embarrassing prefer removing them.

2 Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of common warts include:

  • Tiny, flesh- colored on fingers or hands, that are rough to touch
  • Small black dots spread over the bump

When to see a doctor?

Visit your doctor if:

  • The growths cause pain or have changed their appearance or color
  • Warts doesn’t go away, spread or return despite being treated
  • Warts cause trouble and interfere with activities
  • Your immune systems is impaired because of using immunosuppressant, HIV/AIDS or any other immune system disorders
  • You think the growths aren't warts
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3 Causes

A few among 100 types of Human papillomavirus (HPV) cause common warts.

Most types of HPV are harmless whereas few types of HPV are likely to cause serious disease such as cancer of the cervix.

Warts are contagious and may spread from one part to other areas of your body. The virus can also spread if you touch something that has been touched by other person's wart, such as a towel or exercise equipment.

Breaks in your skin such as, a hangnail or a scrape could provide entry to the virus. Your fingertips and area around nails can also get infected if you have habit of biting your nails.

Not everyone who has or comes in contact with HPV is affected by warts. 

4 Making a Diagnosis

Your primary care doctor may refer you to a dermatologist (a doctor who treats skin disorders) to make a diagnosis of common warts.

How to prepare yourself for the visit

Getting prepared for the visit can optimize the therapy and help make the visit more fruitful. List out all the symptoms.

Write down your key medical information. Write down the names of all your medications, vitamins or supplements. Ask a friend or a family member to accompany you during the visit.

Make a list of the questions to ask your doctor

Some typical questions can be:

  • What could cause these warts?
  • Can these warts recur even after treatment?
  • What are my treatment options and side effects of each options?
  • What tests are needed in case these growths aren't warts?
  • What can I do to prevent warts?

What your doctor wants to know

A clear talk with your doctor can optimize the therapy and improve the outcomes. Prepare yourself to answer some essential questions from your doctor. Your doctor might ask you typical questions like:

  • When did the warts become apparent?
  • Do you have a personal history of warts?
  • Do the warts annoy or embarrass you?
  • What treatments did you use for warts in the past? If so, how long did you use them and did they work?

Diagnosis of common warts include following tests:

  • Your doctor may examine the wart physically
  • The top layer of wart is shaved off to see if there are tiny black dots which are present on most of the warts
  • A small portion of wart may be shaved (biopsy) for laboratory analysis to check if it is any other kind of skin growths.

5 Treatment

Most common warts need no treatment. Common warts disappear on their own though it may take few years and new ones may develop near the older ones.

Few people choose to treat their warts since they find it troublesome and annoying. Some may opt for treatment because the warts don’t look good or keep on spreading.

The treatment approach depends on the location of your warts, symptoms and preferences. Treatment is aimed to remove the warts, activate your immune system to fight against the virus, or both.

Warts may spread or return despite being treated. It may take weeks or months to treat your wart.

Doctor usually treats your warts with least painful treatment option, especially in kids.

Medications to peel off the wart

Salicylic acid peels off the layers of a wart a little bit at a time. Salicylic acid when combined with freezing has proved to be more effective treatment. 

Freezing (cryotherapy)

Cryotherapy uses liquid nitrogen to destroy warts. You may need the treatment for a couple of times. Cryotherapy might activate your immune system as well.

Side effects of cryotherapy are pain, blistering and discoloration of treated skin.

Other acids

Bichloroacetic or trichloroacetic acid may be chosen if salicylic acid or cryotherapy fails to treat your wart. The surface of the wart is scraped off followed by application of the acid.

You may need to be treated every week. It causes burning and stinging sensation.

Laser treatment

In pulsed-dye laser treatment, the tiny blood vessels that are present in warts are burnt (cauterized). This leads to death of the tissue, and the wart eventually falls off. Side effects include pain and scarring.

6 Prevention

With the following measures you can prevent common warts:

  • Don't touch the warts.
  • Avoiding picking warts to prevent transmission of the virus.
  • Avoid using the same emery board, pumice stone or nail clipper for your warts and healthy skin.
  • Don't bite your fingernails. Virus can spread to broken skin due to biting of skin around the fingernails.
  • Groom with care. Use emery board that can be disposed. Don't brush, clip or shave around the warts. Use an electric razor while shaving.
  • Do not forget to wash your hands carefully after touching your warts or surfaces, such as shared exercise equipment.

7 Alternative and Homeopathic Remedies

Following alternative remedies may be used for common warts, but they are not as beneficial as salicylic acid and cryotherapy:

  • Zinc: Zinc preparation is available as ointment or tablets. The oral form is likely to be useful in people with zinc deficiency.
  • Silver nitrate: It is available as solution or ointment.
  • Smoke: Smoke form burnt leaves of a type of poplar tree called Populus euphratica might treat wart in some people.

Non-prescription medicines to treat warts include:

  • Peeling medicine (salicylic acid): Over-the-counter salicylic acid is available as a patch or a liquid. To treat warts, use 17% salicylic acid solution or a 15% patch. You need to use the drug daily for few weeks.
  • Soaking your wart in warm water 10 to 20 minutes prior to using the medicine will show best results. In between the treatments, the dead tissue should be scraped off by the use of disposable emery board or a pumice stone.
  • Freezing: Over-the-counter liquid nitrogen is found as liquid or spray preparations.
  • Duct tape: Warts can be treated with duct tape. Cover your wart with duct tape for six days. After six days, soak the wart in water and get rid of dead tissue by using a pumice stone or disposable emery board. Don’t cover the wart for 12 hours and then repeat the procedure until the wart goes away.

8 Risks and Complications

People at higher risk of developing common warts include:

  • Kids and young adults
  • People with HIV/AIDS or people who're taking immunosuppressants
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