Overview – What is it?
A wart is a small, solid, raised and rough to touch benign tumour or growth that appears on the skin. Warts are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV) and can appear anywhere on the body. However, different types of warts appear in different parts of the body. The symptoms are realised once the warts appear. The diagnosis of warts can include a physical exam or biopsy.
Warts can go away on their own or through treatments like cryotherapy, minor surgery and the use of peeling medicine. They can be prevented by getting vaccinated against HPV, avoiding direct contact with warts and not sharing personal items like shaving objects, among other things that can lead to getting infected with warts.
Causes – What causes it?
Genital Warts are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV) which has more than 100 types that cause different types of warts. They can be spread through:
- Skin to skin contact with a person who has warts.
- Sharing items like towels and shaving objects with a person who has warts.
Having a compromised immune system due to conditions like HIV/AIDs increases the risk of getting warts from an infected person. Genital warts are more contagious than warts on other parts of the body.
Most warts are harmless. However, genital warts can lead to other health issues such as cervical cancer in women and anal cancer in men.
Symptoms – What do you feel?
The symptoms for warts depend on what type of warts one has. Once infected with HPV, it may take even months for them to appear.
Some of the major types of warts are:
- Common warts: Normally appear on the fingers and toes but they can appear in other areas of the body. They are grainy, rough and rounded at the top. They are also greyer than the surrounding skin.
- Flat warts: Usually appear on the face, arms or thighs and are not noticed easily. They have a flat top and can be pink, slightly yellow or brownish.
- Plantar warts: These warts grow on the soles of the feet, and unlike other warts, they grow inside the skin. They may appear as small holes in the bottom of the foot surrounded by hard skin. They can make walking uncomfortable. When small warts grow in clusters on the plantar surface of the foot, they are referred to as mosaic warts.
- Periungual warts: These types of warts grow under and around the fingernails or toenails and can be painful and affect nail growth.
- Filiform warts: They grow on the eyelids, armpits or neck and are long and thin in shape.
Diagnosis – How do you diagnose it?
The diagnosis of warts starts with a physical exam to determine what type of warts a person has taking into consideration their location and appearance. After a physical examination, other tests may be done by:
- Performing a biopsy: This involves getting a section of the wart and analysing it in a laboratory to rule out other skin problems.
Treatment – How do you treat it?
Some home remedies that can be used to treat warts are:
- Using salicylic acid, before which you should soak the wart in water for 5 minutes, and pare it down with a plastic razor
- Using over-the-counter medicine to freeze the warts
Most warts can go away without treatment but in some cases, getting treatment is recommended especially if:
- The wart is painful,
- Changes in colour,
- Appears on the face or other sensitive parts of the body, or
Treatment can also be done by a doctor using:
- Salicylic acid: It works by removing the wart’s layers bit by bit. This treatment option is more effective when combined with freezing.
- Cryotherapy: This is the freezing of warts using liquid nitrogen. Freezing can also stimulate the immune system to fight the warts. It may be painful, and it is not used in young children.
- Trichloroacetic acid: This acid can be used, especially when salicylic acid and freezing do not work.
- Laser treatment: Uses intense laser beam to heat the tissue until it dies, and the wart falls off. This method can cause pain and scarring.
- Surgery: It involves numbing the area surrounding the wart and cutting of the wart leaving a scar in that area.
Prevention – How do you prevent it?
Even though there is no specific way to prevent warts, you can do some of the following to reduce your risk of developing warts:
- Get vaccinated against Human papilloma virus (HPV) to prevent some warts such as genital warts
- Avoid direct contact with warts
- Do not share personal items like towels and nail clippers, as that increases your risk of getting warts from other people.
- Do not bite your fingers as that opens up your skin and warts are more likely to occur in areas with broken skin
- Avoid shaving, brushing and clipping areas that have warts as that may spread them to other areas
- Cover warts with a waterproof covering when swimming
- Wash your hands thoroughly after touching warts
- Keep your hands as dry as possible