What causes warts and what wart treatments work?

What causes warts and what wart treatments work?

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What causes warts and what wart treatments work?



How do you get warts?

  • Warts are caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). This can affect anyone, but can more easily enter damaged or irritated skin (e.g. if you bite your nails).
  • Children are more prone to warts than adults, as their immune systems are not yet mature.
  • You can catch the wart virus by touching the skin of somebody who is infected, or surfaces they’ve touched.
  • You can also spread warts from one area of your own body to another.

Where on your body can you get warts?

  • Warts can happen anywhere on the body, but usually affect the hands an feet.
  • When they occur on the feet they are known as plantar warts or verrucas
  • Warts can also occur in the genital region (but the rest of this article is about warts on the hands and feet)
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wart treatment

What are the little black dots inside a wart?

Contrary to popular belief, these are not “the roots” of the wart. They are blood vessels supplying the wart.

Do warts go away by themselves?

  • It depends. Often warts will go away after a few months, but others can last for years.
  • It’s important to bear in mind that one or two warts may not be very troublesome to begin with, but if you don’t try to get rid of them, the virus may spread and you may get more. Therefore, early treatment is usually advisable.

What are the best over-the-counter remedies for warts?

  • Products which contain salicylic acid can be useful (these come in liquid or plaster form), and work by causing the affected skin to break down.
  • Studies have proven the benefit of topical salicylic acid as compared to placebo (dummy) treatment.
  • Wart treatment with salicylic acid can take several weeks to work.
  • It’s usually recommended that you file the wart with pumice or a nail file between applications of salicylic acid, as doing so gets rid of dead skin and allows the next treatment to get down to a deeper layer.
  • However, be sure not to use the same pumice or nail file in other parts of the body as it may spread the virus!

Freezing warts – cryotherapy or “liquid nitrogen”

  • A GP or dermatologist can perform this treatment
  • It involves spraying or dabbing the warts with liquid nitrogen, which is a lot colder than regular ice
  • There are some over-the-counter treatments which allow you to freeze your own warts, but these are less powerful than the version a doctor uses.
  • Cryotherapy helps to remove the thickened skin of the wart, and filing can be done between treatments, just as for salicylic acid treatment.
  • Cryotherapy may also stimulate your immune system to get rid of the wart virus.
  • It’s usually performed once a week or so, until the wart disappears.
  • It’s generally well tolerated, though there may be some discomfort at the time. Redness, soreness and occasionally blistering may occur afterwards.
  • Some studies have proven cryotherapy can be an effective treatment, though salicylic acid may actually be better!
  • Cryotherapy does require a degree of cooperation, so it may not be suitable for younger children.

What about home remedies?

There are lots of home remedies that are claimed to clear up warts. It’s not certain if any of them are effective. Duct tape is commonly used- this involves applying duct tape to the wart and changing it every few days. It seems to help in certain cases, perhaps by removing outer layers of dead skin. Some research suggests duct tape may work, but is probably less effective than salicylic acid or cryotherapy

Other wart treatments

There are many other treatments, including photodynamic therapy- but not enough research has been done to be certain whether they work or not.

If you have warts and want to get them treated, speak to your pharmacist about over-the-counter options, or see your GP if you would like to consider cryotherapy.

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Aifric Boylan
Originally from Ireland, Dr Boylan is an experienced GP based in Melbourne. She is also committed to innovation in the area of online medicine and health technology. Aifric is a keen distance runner, and plays the violin, but not at the same time…

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