What You Need to Know About Warts—and How to Get Rid of Them

Luckily, 65 per cent of warts will go away on their own. But if you have stubborn one, or you're looking for a quick fix, here are some of the options you should consider.

Woman's feetPhoto: Shutterstock

So You’ve Got a Case of Warts…

Caused by human papilloma viruses (HPVs) and transmitted via touch or contaminated surfaces, warts are so common that you’re nearly guaranteed to get one over the course of your life. These small, rough skin growths, which can show up anywhere, typically affect the hands, feet or genitals. They’re usually harmless but can be bothersome and embarrassing.

Part of what makes warts so frustrating is their stubbornness: they can take months or even years to go away on their own—and some never do. If you’re tired of waiting, you could try salicylic acid, which is available in over-the-counter treatment kits. It won’t resolve matters overnight but could speed up the process by eroding the wart a little bit at a time. (Are your toes suffering from other issues, too? Try these tips for avoiding sore feet.)

Another option is visiting a dermatologist, who can administer more aggressive removal methods such as freezing the wart off with liquid nitrogen, burning it away with an electrical charge, or cutting it out with surgical tools. These treatments may not be covered by medical insurance, so find out ahead of time whether you’ll be paying out of pocket.

Particularly obstinate warts might respond better to immunotherapies, which aim to give the body’s natural defences the boost they need to suppress the virus. For instance, a chemical such as diphencyprone might be applied to the affected area to trigger a mild reaction and kick the immune system into gear. (Not all skin products are good for you, however. Here are nine beauty items dermatologists wish you’d stop wasting money on.)

Until removal is complete, it’s best to practise “wart etiquette” to avoid passing on your infection. Plantar warts, which mostly affect the soles of the feet, are caused by viral strains that thrive and spread in wet environments; therefore, wear flip-flops or cover your warts with waterproof tape in locker rooms and public pools, as well as the shower.

Don’t share personal items—socks, towels—that come into contact with warts. And resist picking at them, which often helps to propagate the underlying viruses.

See a doctor if a wart is painful, if it bleeds easily or if it changes colour or appearance—you’ll want to make sure it isn’t skin cancer. If it is indeed a wart, then it’s “just a cosmetic nuisance,” says Dr. Colm O’Mahony, a member of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology. “In extremely rare cases, a genital wart can become massive [many centimetres wide] and can become cancerous, but that’s incredibly unlikely.”

Feel free to get your lesions treated if they distress you; otherwise, you may choose to just get on with life, warts and all. 

Follow this guide to differentiate between six common skin conditions.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada