What You Can Do About Warts


Mary Elizabeth Dallas

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Anyone can get warts. These skin growths are quite common. They're usually harmless and can clear up on their own, but you may need treatment to make them go away. Here’s what you need to know and what to do if you have one wart or many.

How to Keep Warts from Spreading

Warts are caused by a virus and are contagious. They can spread from one part of your body to another. They also can spread to other people. This can happen by touching warts. It can also happen by coming into contact with something that has the virus on it, like a towel. 

To keep warts from spreading: 

  • Do not pick or scratch your warts.
  • Do not go barefoot. This is especially important when you're in public showers, pool areas, and locker rooms.
  • Keep your feet dry. Moisture helps foot warts spread.
  • Do not touch a wart on someone else.

How to Treat Warts at Home

Warts often clear up without treatment. This can take time though. While you're waiting, the warts could spread to another part of your body or to someone else. Because of this, many people try to treat them on their own. Home treatment is often all that's needed.

Home treatments include:

  • Salicylic acid. This is the most common treatment for warts. It comes as a liquid, a gel, or a patch, like a bandage. You apply the salicylic acid on the warts daily. This softens or loosens them so they fall off, or you can easily remove them. It may take several weeks before the warts are gone.

  • Taping. They say duct tape fixes everything, and that seems to include warts. You cover warts with duct tape. Then, peel off the tape every few days. Layers of the wart peel off with it. Research also suggests that duct tape also may work when used with a prescription medicated cream called imiquimod. This cream is a treatment for certain skin growths, including warts. Experts think the tape might help the drug penetrate the skin to treat the wart.

  • Freezing. You can use aerosol sprays to freeze warts off the skin. Sprays contain a mixture of liquid dimethyl ether and propane. The spray causes a blister to form around the wart. When the blister comes off the skin, so does the wart.

Some people should see a doctor about their warts. This includes anyone with signs of an infected wart, such as pain, redness or warmth of the surrounding area. Experts also advise people with certain health problems not to treat foot warts by themselves. It you have diabetes, heart conditions, or blood-flow problems, see a doctor to have a wart removed.

How Doctors Treat Warts

If at-home wart remedies don’t work or the warts spread, you should see a doctor. Doctors can prescribe stronger treatments. The treatment that is right for you depends on your age, health, and the type of wart you have.

Options that doctors often use include:

  • Cantharidin. This drug is applied to your skin during an office visit. It causes a blister to form under the wart. After about a week, you go back to the doctor to have what's left of the wart clipped off your skin.

  • Cryotherapy. This works like an over-the-counter freezing spray, but stronger. The procedure involves spraying liquid nitrogen on the wart. You may need several treatments for cryotherapy to work.

  • Electrosurgery and curettage. Electrosurgery burns the wart. Then, the doctor scoops it out with a spoon-shaped tool or removes it with a knife. This option works on common warts and foot warts. It also works on filiform warts, which look like long, thin threads. They usually form near the mouth, eyes, and nose.

  • Excision. A doctor simply cuts the wart out of the skin.

  • Laser treatment. This option treats warts that are hard to remove. A doctor will numb your skin before the procedure.

  • Chemical peels. This may be used when someone has many warts. The doctor prescribes a chemical to put on your skin each day. It contains a strong mix of salicylic acid, tretinoin, and glycolic acid.

  • Bleomycin. Doctors inject this anticancer drug into a wart in severe cases. This can be painful. It also can cause side effects. In some cases, people who get the shot in the finger could lose their fingernail.

  • Immunotherapy. If all other wart-removal treatments fail, your doctor may try to boost your immune system. This may involve applying a drug to your skin or injecting it. The goal is to boost your immune system so it can fight the virus that causes warts.

When to See a Doctor About Warts

Warts can look like other skin problems. For instance, people sometimes mistake some skin cancers for warts. If you're not sure what you have, talk with your doctor. 

See your doctor if you have:

  • A wart on your face or genitals
  • Many warts
  • Painful or itchy warts
  • Warts that burn or bleed 

Doctors can identify the type of wart you have. This is important because different warts need different treatments. For instance, medication or treatments used on a foot wart would not be the same as what a doctor would use for genital warts

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Apr 30, 2016

© 2018 Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.

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Medical References

  1. Warts. American Academy of Dermatology. https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/contagious-skin-diseases/warts
  2. Genital Warts. American Academy of Dermatology. https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/contagious-skin-diseases/genital-warts
  3. How to get rid of warts. American Academy of Dermatology. https://www.aad.org/public/kids/skin/warts/how-to-get-rid-of-warts
  4. Imiquimod Topical.  MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/meds/a698010.html
  5. Kim SY, et al. New Alternative Combination Therapy for Recalcitrant Common Warts: The Efficacy of Imiquimod 5% Cream and Duct Tape Combination Therapy. Ann Dermatol. 2013; 25(2): 261–263. 
  6. Loo SKF, Tang WYM. Warts (Nongenital). Am Fam Physician. 2010;81(8):1008-1009. 
  7. Some Wart Removers are Flammable. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/forconsumers/consumerupdates/ucm381429.htm
  8. Warts. American Academy of Pediatrics. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/skin/pages/Warts.aspx
  9. Warts. American Podiatric Medical Association. http://www.apma.org/Learn/FootHealth.cfm?ItemNumber=989
  10. Hengge UR, et al. Topical Treatment of Warts and Mollusca with Imiquimod. Ann Intern Med. 2000;132(1):95. 

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