A wart is a small, hard, benign tumor on the skin, often caused by a virus. This unrestrained cell growth of the skin can occur anywhere on the body, but is usually found on the hands and feet. Especially children often suffer from it, as well as people with weakened immune systems. There are different types of warts.
Warts are caused by an infection of the skin by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). This ensures that the cells of the skin are growing unusually rapidly. The virus is very contagious and can spread from person to person by direct skin contact, but also by touching contaminated surfaces. The swimming pool, where many people walk barefoot, for example, is a place where a person can easily get warts on the foot (plantar warts). If someone has come into contact with the virus, it will take quite a while before one actually gets warts; about three to six months and sometimes even years.
Often, it is limited to warts once. The body acquires immunity to the virus when someone has had warts. Thus, a person who gets a new infection with the virus, normally gets no warts anymore. Except if he or she has a weakened immune system. Then the warts can return. The immune systems of young children are not as strong yet, allowing them to suffer more frequently from warts than adults with strong immune systems.
Warts are harmless and have few symptoms. They don’t itch and hurt. The disadvantage is that they can look ugly and dirty. This can be nasty if they are in sight, such as on the hands. The size ranges from less than one millimeter to more than a centimeter.
The different types of warts can be recognized by their own characteristics:
- Common warts. Small, round lumps with a cauliflower-like appearance. Over the wart, there is often a callus layer, making it feel rough and hard. The common wart is gray or brown in color. This wart is mainly found on the hands, fingers, toes and knees.
- Plantar warts. These are warts that grow on the bottom of the feet. The plantar wart is often a little flatter than the common wart, due to the pressure of the body weight on the soles.
- Genital warts. These relate to a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Spreading takes place via sexual contact. Genital warts are very contagious. The warts are in appearance very similar to other warts. However, they only grow in the pubic area or around the anus.
- Flat warts. These are smoother, flatter and smaller than other warts. They are often with many at a time and occur mainly on the face, forearms, back of the hands and on the legs.
- Filiform (wire-shaped) warts. This is the stemmed variant of the common wart. This wart is a bulging of the skin on a stem and is usually found in the face. In children, they are mostly found on the lips, eyelids or nose.
- Age warts. These are, in contrast to other warts, not caused by a virus. Age warts occur especially in people older than fifty years. The older one gets, the more they appear. Age warts occur mainly on the chest, back or face.
The diagnosis of wart is made on the basis of the characteristic appearance. The diagnosis of genital warts is made by cervical screening. Optionally, investigation into nucleic acids and serological tests can be done.
Warts don’t need to be treated when the patient is not bothered by it. They often disappear on their own. If warts nevertheless need to be dealt with, the following agents and methods may be applied:
- Anti-warts agents. The patient can buy agents at the drugstore in order to get rid of the warts more rapidly. With these resources, one can tap warts by oneself, after having the skin around it protected by a fatty cream. The agents are made up of salicylic acid or podophyllin, which remove the visible part of the warts.
- Freezing with liquid nitrogen. After the treatment, a blister arises on the wart, which falls off from the skin on its own, together with the wart. It may be necessary to tap the wart several times.
- Burning. A skin specialist burns the warts off with a special laser.
- Cutting. The skin specialist chips the wart with a sharp knife from the skin. Plantar warts with a thick callus layer may have to be pre-treated, before they can be removed permanently. The patient will get a patch with a softening ointment, that he or she should stick to the wart. After a week, the callous is soft and the keratin layer can be scraped off.
The prognosis for warts is usually good. Most warts disappear without treatment within six months to three years. Home remedies are often effective. When self-treatment fails, there are several medical options to let the wart be removed. However, warts tend to come back.
- Avoid using towels, shoes or other personal items of people who suffer from warts.
- In the swimming pool, the gym or other public areas, always wear slippers or something else to the feet.
- Always dry the feet and hands thoroughly.
- Don’t scratch warts.
- Wash hands after touching the warts.
- Wash towels at high temperatures.
- Don’t brush and shave yourself in places where warts are.
- The Latin word verruca means ‘wart’.
- The prevalence of warts is over 17% in children aged 4 to 18 years. In adults, warts are rare.