Buckle up, because today we’ll be covering just about everything you ever wanted to know about warts—and probably some stuff you didn’t want to know, too! (At least not until they appear on you or a loved one, anyway.)
There’s a lot of confusion out there about these little guys. Is it really a wart, or something else? How did I get it? Is it contagious? How do I get rid of it? Let us help you clear up your misconceptions, so you have the information you need to clear up your feet.
What do warts look like?
Excellent question. A lot of people get warts confused with other small and fleshy bumps—blisters, corns, cysts, skin tags, etc. You may need to stop in to our office to confirm a diagnosis. However, most warts share a few common, defining features:
- They’re small, grainy, rough, and usually have pretty well defined edges that interrupt the normal lines of the skin.
- If you look closely, you’ll might see what looks like a black pinpoint in the center of the wart. For the record, this isn’t a wart “seed” or “root.” You can’t dig it out. It’s a blood vessel.
Beyond this, though, there’s some variability. Most warts are small, but a few can be larger or longer. You might have one or two isolated warts, but they can also appear in clusters. They usually aren’t painful—at least not on their own—but if you’re unlucky enough to develop a wart on the sole of your foot (we call those plantar warts) the pressure from weight bearing can be quite uncomfortable.
Where do warts come from? I don’t remember kissing any toads.
Are you sure? Do you sleepwalk? Do you live near a marsh or pond?
Warts don’t have anything to do with drinking witches’ brews or puckering up for amphibians. They’re caused by certain strains of the human papillomavirus, or HPV. These microscopic invaders look for an opening in the skin—cuts, scraps, hangnails, etc.—and when they find one, they set up shop for a while.
Hopefully your immune system isn’t napping on the job and takes care of the problem for you, but unfortunately that isn’t always the case. People with weaker immune systems—children, seniors, those with diabetes or organ transplants, etc.—are more likely to develop warts after an infection.
Okay, sure, but how did the virus find my foot in the first place? Is it contagious?
Unfortunately, plantar warts are contagious—although to be fair, transmission from person-to-person contact is somewhat rare. More likely, you stuck your foot in a warm, moist environment where the wart was already living—a shower, public swimming pool, or a stinky shoe that you really out to have given another day of drying time. Please wear shower shoes or flip flops in such situations.
That said, warts can spread from family member to family member via shared sheets, linens, socks and shoes, etc. If your wart bleeds, bandage it as soon as possible and limit contact.
Also worth mentioning: warts can spread not just from you to others, but from you to you. That is to say, they can spread and multiply across your skin through both direct and indirect contact.
Are warts dangerous?
Usually no. Warts may be ugly and embarrassing, but for most healthy people they won’t pose any serious health risks.
That said, if you have diabetes, poor circulation, or neuropathy in your feet, warts can be the link in a chain of more serious health problems, and should be addressed immediately. You should also seek treatment right away if the wart is painful or limiting your activities in any way, regardless of your health status.
Will my warts go away on their own?
If you’re healthy, and you give it enough time … then yes, your wart will probably go away on its own. But we’re not talking about next Tuesday here. It’ll probably be more like several months—or a few years.
So, do I even need treatment then? My wart isn’t really bothering me and I’m a patient guy.
We’d call this a “No, but …” situation.
Sure, if you’re healthy, and the wart isn’t bothering you, and we determine there are no serious health risks, you could decide to let nature take its course. That’s your call. But there are good reasons why we think you should anyway:
- You might have one wart in a relatively “safe” spot today, but there’s no guarantee it won’t spread. Treating one small wart today is a lot easier than treating 15 nasty, painful ones six months down the line. Better safe than sorry.
- If those warts spread to a significant other, forget sleeping on the couch—you’ll be sleeping in the garage.
Okay, okay, I’ll deal with my wart. I heard you can just rip them off with duct tape, right?
Truthfully, home therapies and over-the-counter remedies (even those “wart removal kits” you can buy at the pharmacy) generally aren’t worth your time. We’ve almost never seen duct tape, soaks, or other home therapies work—if your wart goes away after using them, it’s probably a coincidence. Pharmacy kits aren’t that much better, and if you’re self-applying chemicals to your feet (whether that’s peeling acid or the toxic glue in duct tape), there’s a decent change you’ll cause some collateral damage to healthy skin. Meanwhile, your unaffected wart has more time to spread.
Although we’re generally fans of conservative therapies that you can handle at home, that’s only the case when they actually work. For warts, it’s just plain better to come see us.
What in-office treatments do you provide?
Happy to answer that, friend! We offer several treatment options for wart removal:
- Topical chemicals. We apply an acidic medication that breaks up and kills the wart. These topicals range from mild to more aggressive. This tends to be the gentlest way to treat warts, and appropriate for young children.
- Cryotherapy. We freeze the wart with a small dose of super-cooled liquid. This causes the wart to scab up, so it can be picked off. The method of choice for most older children and adults, who are better equipped to handle some mild discomfort.
- Excision. The most aggressive approach. We apply a local anesthetic, cut the wart out in one fell swoop, using a small tool called a curette.
Which treatment should I choose?
Generally speaking, with each treatment option there’s a bit of a trade-off between the effectiveness and invasiveness. The gentlest peeling medicines are the least likely to cause any pain or side effects, but they often require multiple sessions and more time to fully get rid of the wart. More aggressive treatments work faster, but are more likely to be painful or cause scarring or complications.
The best treatment for you will depend on things like your age, your health status, how many warts you have, how big they are, where they’re located, etc. We’ll take time to go over all your options and weight the pros and cons carefully so you can make an informed choice.
Ready to get rid of those warts yet? Get started by filling out a contact form, or giving us a call today.