Periungual Warts Overview

Hands and feet.
Periungal warts, caused by the human papillomavirus, occur around the nail bed of both hands and feet. See more pictures of skin problems.
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Nobody likes warts. Toads are constantly ostracized for them. Evil witches are portrayed with them prominently on their noses. You can hide plantar warts with a pair of socks and shoes, but a wart on your hand might make you feel like everyone's taking notice.

Warts can appear on skin on any part of the body, but where a wart develops determines its physical characteristics, such as size, color and texture. There are five different types of warts: common, plantar, flat, filiform and periungual. Warts growing near the nail bed, or periungual warts, are part of the common wart family and are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) [source: Mayo Clinic]. Periungual warts are unique because they develop around the nail on the foot and hand.


If the virus growing in and around the nail isn't treated, the nail may detach from the skin. But other than the threat of losing a fingernail or toenail, periungual warts are very similar to warts that form elsewhere on the body. They're raised, rough and cauliflowerlike. The spot where a wart develops usually turns a different color than the skin around it and, like other warts, periungual warts are benign and treatable.

Unfortunately, during the time they appear, warts are highly contagious and can spread to other parts of the body if you're not careful. Preventing a wart is a multistep process. It's especially important to keep your fingers and toes clean and to avoid biting your nails -- HPV can enter the body through broken skin [source: WebMD]. The virus spreads by skin-to-skin contact with others who have warts, but experts believe it's more likely you'll spread periungual warts from an infected area of your body to one that isn't infected than you will to another person.

Causes for periungual warts vary, and every person who's infected with HPV or another wart-causing virus will have different symptoms. On the next page, you'll learn how to avoid conditions that foster wart growth and transference.


Causes of Periungual Warts

The HPV strand that causes warts is highly contagious and can be spread by skin-to-skin contact with another person or from one part of the infected person's body to another area. Regularly scrubbing your fingernails and toenails, thoroughly drying your feet and wearing sandals or waterproof shoes in public showers can help with wart prevention.

The hands and feet are especially susceptible to HPV since they're in regular contact with many things that may be a carrier for the virus. HPV can enter the body through a cut or abrasion, so fingernail biting is a major contributor to wart growth on the hands. As you nibble at your nails, you can damage the skin around them, allowing the virus to enter [source: American Academy of Dermatology]. When the virus affects this area, abnormal cell growth under and around the nail bed can cause nails to grow abnormally, appear raised and permanently deform the nail. It's important to treat the abnormality as soon as a wart is diagnosed to prevent this type of long-term damage.


Since warts are caused by a virus, it's possible to remove the wart, but it could return if the virus is alive and well. It's also possible that someone who has the virus doesn't know it and never exhibits any symptoms. This makes it hard to avoid situations where you could come into contact with someone who is carrying the wart-causing virus, which is why sanitizing and cleaning are so important. Experts suspect that warts can be caused by stress in addition to physical contact [source: Associated Press].

Despite your best efforts at prevention, you may become infected with periungual warts. Treatment of warts around the nails can include a combination of home remedies and doctor-aided removal. Read on for details.


Treating Periungual Warts

There are many ways to treat periungual warts. In some cases, they will disappear on their own, but if the growth is painful, unsightly or spreading, there are a few options for removal. It's possible to begin treating the wart by applying salicylic acid or one of several over-the-counter wart removers. Nonprescription liquids or gels come with specific directions to effectively diagnose and remove any questionable growths. While wart removers have harsh chemicals that might zap a wart at the root, keeping fingers and toes cool, clean and covered with the medicine can be a challenge.

Common household items can also be part of a do-it-yourself plan for tricky treatment areas. Suffocate the wart with electrical tape or similar strong adhesive tape [source: WebMD]. Select a tape that doesn't breathe (or isn't made of cloth). Apply the tape to the wart for six days, taking one day off each week. The tape should be replaced daily.


If the problem persists, seek a doctor's help. Cryotherapy, injections or burning processes -- which involve carbon dioxide lasers or electric needles -- are options that attack the infected area and encourage the growth to die and fall off. A possible downside is scarring; the skin around the wart is also damaged during the burning or freezing process [source: American Osteopathic College of Dermatology].

Surgical procedures to remove the wart completely have minor side effects, but this is a last-resort method for recurring warts or abnormally large growths that don't respond to other treatments. A doctor may also prescribe an immunotherapy cream, which is typically used to combat genital warts because the medication is supposed to increase the body's natural ability to reject the virus [source: Taylor MicroTechnology, Inc.].

Not all periungual warts respond the same to treatment, and multiple applications of a product -- or many visits to a dermatologist -- may be required to finally remove the abnormal skin growth. For more information on periungual warts, follow the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • American Academy of Dermatology. "Nail Fungus & Nail Health." 2008. (Accessed 8/4/09)
  • American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. "Warts." 2009. (Accessed 8/4/09)
  • Associated Press. "Adult Acne: Blame Recession for Breakouts." 3/11/09. (Accessed 8/5/09)
  • Mayo Clinic. "Common Warts." 2/16/08. (Accessed 8/4/09)
  • MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. "Warts." 10/28/08. (Accessed 8/3/09)
  • Stulberg, Daniel L. and Anne Galbraith Hutchinson. "Molluscum Contagiosum and Warts." American Family Physician, vol. 67, no. 6. 3/15/03.
  • Taylor MicroTechnology, Inc. "Warts." 4/27/04. (Accessed 8/4/09)
  • WebMD. "Warts and Plantar Warts-Topic Overview." 9/11/08. (Accessed 8/3/09)