This factsheet is for people who have warts or verrucas, or who would like information about them.
Warts are small, rough growths caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV). Any area of the skin can be affected, but warts are most commonly found on the hands, feet and face. Warts on the sole of the feet are known as verrucas and are also caused by HPV.
- About warts and verrucas
- Symptoms of warts and verrucas
- Causes of warts and verrucas
- Diagnosis of warts and verrucas
- Treatment of warts and verrucas
- Special considerations
- Prevention of warts and verrucas
About warts and verrucas
Up to one in 10 people will have a wart at some point in their life, most commonly in childhood or adolescence. Warts and verrucas are usually harmless and go away by themselves, with up to nine in 10 disappearing within two years in children but often taking longer in adults.
Different types of warts vary in appearance and size, ranging from 1mm to 1cm. The following are some common examples of different types of wart.
Common wart (verruca vulgaris)
These are firm, raised growths with a rough surface, which might look like a very small cauliflower. They are most commonly found on the backs of your hands, fingers, toes and on your knees.
Verruca (plantar wart)
These are usually found on the soles of your feet. They may have dark spots in the centre and may cause you pain when you put weight on them.
Plane wart (verruca plana)
These are round, smooth, flat growths often slightly brown in colour. They are common on your face and hands.
These are usually a number of verrucas packed together in a small area, often on your hands and feet.
These are long, slender growths common on your face and neck.
Symptoms of warts and verrucas
Warts shouldn’t usually cause you any symptoms, but you may find them uncomfortable or painful, especially if they are on your feet near your nail beds.
Contact your doctor if your symptoms get worse or the wart becomes more painful.
Causes of warts and verrucas
Warts are caused by HPV, of which there are over 100 different types. Warts can be contagious, but the risk of you catching them is low. Warts usually spread from direct skin contact or in damp places, commonly in swimming pools and communal showers. If you scratch a wart, the viral particles may spread to other areas of your skin.
If you’re a butcher, handle meat or work in an abattoir, you may be more likely to develop warts, although the reasons for this are unclear.
People who have a weakened immune system, such as those who have HIV/AIDS, or those who are taking medicines that suppress the immune system, are more likely to develop warts and verrucas.
Diagnosis of warts and verrucas
If you’re worried about your wart or verruca, visit your doctor. He or she will ask you about your symptoms and examine you. He or she may also ask you about your medical history. Your doctor will try to diagnose which type of wart or verruca you have by its appearance.
Treatment of warts and verrucas
You may want to consider treatment if the wart becomes painful, unsightly or doesn’t go away after some time.
If you have warts on your face, your doctor will probably advise you not to treat these as it may lead to irritation or scarring.
If you’re not sure whether your growth is a wart, see your doctor.
Although there isn’t much evidence to show that it works, you may wish to try placing duct tape over your wart as a way of getting rid of it. Cover the wart with duct tape for six days, then soak the wart in water and rub with an emery board or pumice stone to scrape off the dead skin. Keep the wart uncovered overnight and re-apply duct tape the next day. You may need to continue this cycle of treatment for up to two months before the wart disappears.
Cryotherapy is the process of freezing your wart. Most commonly cryotherapy is usually done by your doctor using liquid nitrogen. The liquid nitrogen is applied to the wart using either a spray or applying it with a cotton bud. It will take between five and 30 seconds to freeze your wart depending on the technique used and the size and location of your wart.
Your doctor may use over-the-counter sprays as a method of cryotherapy. However, liquid nitrogen can get up to three times as cold as over-the-counter sprays.
Cryotherapy may need to be repeated every three to four weeks. It can be painful and sometimes lead to blistering or scarring of the skin. It isn’t often recommended for children as it’s painful and they may not be able to stay still long enough for the procedure to be carried out. In certain circumstances, such as if your wart is over a tendon or you have poor circulation, cryotherapy may not be recommended. Cryotherapy to the sole of the foot can be painful and is not often used to treat verrucas.
Surgical removal may be recommended in certain circumstances, especially if your wart is stopping you from doing your daily activities.
Prevention of warts and verrucas
Warts and verrucas are usually caused by direct skin contact or contact with contaminated surfaces.
Taking the following precautions can help prevent warts and verrucas.
- Try not to touch other people’s warts.
- Don’t share your towels, shoes or socks with someone who has a wart.
- Wear flip-flops in communal showers.
- Cover your wart with a plaster or glove.
- Don’t scratch or pick your wart as it is more likely to spread.
There is no reason why you shouldn’t take part in activities such as sports or swimming if you have a wart. It’s a good idea to cover your wart with a plaster or if you go barefoot in communal areas, you may want to wear a verruca sock.