One of the most common myths about warts is that you can catch them from toads. In reality, warts are usually spread through contact with another person, not an amphibian. And what causes the infection? Human papillomavirus (HPV).
HPV is usually discussed in relation to sexually transmitted infections, but there are around 100 strains of the virus. Only some of them cause warts, which can develop on the genitals, hands (palmer warts), bottoms of the feet (plantar warts) and just about anywhere else. Kids are more prone to them because their immune systems are immature, but children's warts also seem to disappear more quickly.
Once the virus takes hold, blood vessels root in the wart and begin to feed it the oxygen and nutrients it needs to grow. You can see these dark pinpricks in the wart if you look closely.
To get rid of warts before they spread, the first step is to kill the virus.
First-line Treatments for Warts
To go after warts, you might start with a salicylic acid treatment. It's a fairly gentle but also time-consuming approach. Twice daily, you soak and dry the wart, then apply the medication (in foam, liquid or pad form). You then use a file or pumice stone to file away the dead skin. The only downside? It may be a few months before you see results with this method. Retinoid cream is another common method for wart removal, but it doesn't work as well as salicylic acid.
A common home remedy for wart banishment is covering the offender with duct tape for several days, then soaking and filing away the dead skin before recovering it. Scientific studies are inconclusive on whether this method works -- anecdotal evidence is really all we have to go on.
Cryotherapy, in which the blood vessels of the wart are frozen with liquid nitrogen, can be done with an at-home kit or in a doctor's office. Taking away its blood supply suffocates the wart, although you may have some blistering and pain to contend with. But if you're looking for a solution that's likely to destroy warts on the first try, cryotherapy is a good place to start.
A chemical named cantharidin is sometimes administered when therapies such as freezing the wart fail, but the resulting blisters can be painful.
If those don't appeal to you, or don't work, you have other medical options.
Surgical Treatments for Warts
Warts can be stubborn. For the persistent ones, you may have to take stronger measures. Surgery is always a possibility, although it can cause scarring. Surgery with CO2 or electric lasers is becoming more common for warts that haven't responded to other therapies. Once the laser has attacked the wart and caused it to burn, your body's immune system will handle the rest. Pulsed dye lasers are the only type of surgical treatment that don't usually leave a scar.
Besides lasers, we have needles.
- Electric needle. This is the needle version of the CO2 laser (and it can similarly cause scarring).
- Immunotherapy. With this therapy, foreign bodies are injected into the wart. The immune system raises the alarm and sends cells to fight the invader, getting rid of the wart at the same time. (It can't be any old foreign body -- it has to be one that the immune system will recognize.)
- Needling. Performed most often on plantar warts, this process involves sticking a needle into the wart 100-200 times, in the hopes that it will trigger an immune response.
Wart Prevention Tips
You'd rather never get warts at all than figure out how to get rid of them. Think of warts the way you would look at any other contagious virus and take precautions:
- Don't share soap, deodorant or razors with other people.
- Wear shoes in the locker room and around swimming pools.
- Don't share towels or clothing, especially socks.
If you find a wart on yourself, keep it from spreading.
- Don't touch warts.
- Immediately wash your hands if you do touch them.
- Be very careful when shaving around them.
For lots more information on warts and skin care, please see the next page.
- American Academy of Family Physicians. "Warts: Removal by Freezing." (Oct. 2, 2009)http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/common/skin/treatment/105.html
- American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. "Warts." (Sep. 28, 2009)http://www.aocd.org/skin/dermatologic_diseases/warts.html
- Associated Press. "Study: Duct tape wart cure overstated." USA Today. Mar. 19, 2007.http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2007-03-19-duct-tape_N.htm
- Feet for Life Podiatry Center. "Plantar Warts." (Oct. 2, 2009)http://www.podiatryinfo.com/r11.html
- Medical College of Georgia. "New HPV Vaccine Under Study." ScienceDaily. Nov. 20, 2007. (Sept. 30, 2009)http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/11/071119113902.htm
- Medical News Today. "Dermatologists Use Antigen Shots to Alleviate Warts without Scarring." July 22, 2005. (Sep. 28, 2009)http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/27573.php
- Merck Manuals. "Warts." Oct. 2008. (Oct. 2, 2009)http://www.merck.com/mmpe/sec10/ch122/ch122c.html
- Miller, Karl E., M.D." Duct Tape More Effective than Cryotherapy for Warts." American Family Physician. Feb. 1, 2003.http://www.aafp.org/afp/20030201/tips/8.html
- University of Queensland (2006, February 14). "Scientists Tweak Cervical Cancer Vaccine Technology To Fight Most Common Sexually Transmitted Disease -- Genital Warts." ScienceDaily. Feb. 14, 2006. (Oct. 1, 2009)http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/02/060213104113.htm
- WebMD. "Retinoid cream for warts." Sept. 11, 2008. (Oct. 2, 2009)http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/retinoid-tretinoin-cream-for-warts
- WebMD. "Skin Condition: Warts." (Sep. 28, 2009)http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/guide/warts
- WebMD. "Warts: 10 Answers to Frequently Asked Questions." (Sep. 28, 2009)http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/warts-faq-questions-answers