Also known as verrucae or condylomata, warts are benign thickenings found in the skin or mucous membranes. They are very common and tend to occur regardless of age, although they may occur more frequently in children and teenagers. It is thought that warts may be associated with a decreased immune system.
Warts are caused by the human papilloma virus, of which there are more than 50 different types. Each type is characterized by a number that corresponds to a specific type of wart or a specific location that it may infect in the body. Most types of the virus are harmless and they tend to disappear after several months. However, they can recur and may be contagious, transmitted by skin to skin contact.
There are many different types of warts including:
- Verruca Vulgaris (the common wart) – rough surfaces with small tiny spots commonly found on the hands, elbows and knees.
- Flat Warts – flat topped smoother looking warts, which may be brown or skin colored. Most commonly seen on faces.
- Plantar Warts – thickened warts found on the soles of the feet. They often contain thrombosed blood vessels, which causes black dots.
- Genital Warts – appearing in the genital and peri-anal area, genital warts may resemble common warts or appear like skin colored papules. Their size may vary and they can be pigmented. Some types of genital warts may be pre-cancerous so it is a good idea to have them inspected by a physician.
Warts may be treated with a range of treatments and procedures which are safe for most people. Diabetics, however, should treat warts only under the supervision of a doctor due to the complications diabetes presents to tissue healing.
Several non-prescription options including topically applied salicylic acid and cryotherapy (liquid nitrogen) have demonstrated high rates of success.
For most warts, topical salicylic acid works well. You can find salicylic acid in products including Duofilm. Wartner is a relatively new treatment that use the same liquid nitrogen (cryotherapy) that your physician may use in the office. It works by ‘freezing’ the wart. Finally, there is Canthacur, which is available to the public but should be administered by a physician only.
Non prescription treatments have good success rates, but you may find that recurrence is a problem with warts, regardless of the treatment used. Other options include a range of prescription only topical treatments, surgical curettage or laser treatment. Speak to your doctor to explore these options.