David Poon, BSc Immunology and Infection, PharmD Student
Though they look a lot like cauliflowers, they certainly aren’t. Rest assured that warts aren’t tiny cauliflowers growing on a person. Warts are small, round and hard bumps on the skin that may contain white, pink, brown, or little black dots inside of the wart.1 They’re commonly found on the fingers, hands and bottom of the feet. Typically, warts are painless unless they’re found on the feet.2 If you or someone you know has warts growing on or near the face, around fingernails and genital regions, stop reading now and see your physician. These are not the warts we’ll be discussing in this article.
Human Papilloma Virus
So, what is the culprit behind warts? Blame the Human Papilloma Virus, or more commonly known as HPV.3
When HPV enters the skin, it can cause a wart to form and spread from person-to-person via direct or indirect contact. It typically affects children, young adults and people with a suppressed immune system. And yes, this is the same virus that is more infamously known to cause genital warts. However, there are different strains of HPV which affect different regions of the body. Meaning, if you have a wart on your finger, hand, or feet, it won’t spread to the genital region and vice versa.
To Treat or Not to Treat
This is really up to you. We know that most warts go away on their own, but the problem is we don’t know how long it’ll take for the wart to simply disappear. It could take months to years for it to go away.1
You may want to consider treatment if you
- Have painful warts
- Have warts that easily bleed
- Have warts that make you feel embarrassed and/or self-conscious
- Want to prevent the spread of warts to others or other parts of the body
These are treatment options that you can find over the counter at the pharmacy.
Topical salicylic acid
Topical salicylic acid is an effective and safe treatment for removing warts. Since virus is found inside the affected area of skin, it takes anywhere from weeks to months before the wart is removed. For optimal effect, take a look at the following tips:
- Soak the wart in warm water for ~10 mins and lightly dry the skin
- Apply Vaseline to the unaffected area surrounding the wart
- Apply the salicylic acid to the wart, letting the solution dry for ~5 mins
- Cover the wart with medical tape to prevent drying of the wart. The medication works better when it can penetrate through the dry skin
- After 24 hours, using a pumice stone or emery board, file away the dead grey skin at the top surface of the wart
If at any point during the treatment, if the wart becomes sore, consider stopping the treatment for a few days. Once the soreness goes away, continue treatment until the wart is removed. Also, in order to prevent the spread of the wart, always wash your hands after touching the wart.
This involves exposing the wart to cold temperatures in an attempt to freeze off the skin infected with HPV. If done in a physician’s office, they’ll likely use liquid nitrogen, which reaches -196℃ and is considerably colder than non-prescription treatment options. Studies have shown that liquid nitrogen treatment every 2 weeks may be more effective than daily topical salicylic acid treatment.3
Maybe. You might’ve heard about this technique somewhere online. Although duct tape might fix that leaking faucet, chances are it won’t fix a wart. If topical salicylic acid and cryotherapy aren’t options for you, then it can’t hurt to try trusty ol’ duct tape. A study in children aged 4-12 showed no statistical difference when comparing treatment with duct tape and a corn pad. But if you do opt for the duct tape route, then consider applying duct tape for 1 week, then soak the wart in warm water. Rub off the dead grey skin using a pumice stone or emery board and leave untreated overnight. The following day, reapply the duct tape and repeat.
If these options don’t seem to be working despite non-prescription treatment for 2 months, then see your healthcare professional for alternative treatment options.
The Bottom Line
Deciding whether you need a treatment or not really depends on the presentation of the wart and how much it’s bothering you. There are some treatment options you can find over-the-counter at your pharmacy, but they may or may not work for you. Don’t be a worry wart. If you have any questions or concerns about what you think might be a wart, visit your friendly healthcare professional.
We hope you took away something valuable from this piece. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this article or others, feel free to reach out to us on Instagram, Facebook, or at firstname.lastname@example.org with your feedback. We’d love to hear from you.
- Warts – What You Need to Know. RxTx.
- Mallin, A. (2016). Plantar Warts. RxTx.
- Burris, K., Fedorowicz, Z., Ehrlich, A. (2017, July 11). Verruca vulgaris. Retrieved from http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115765/Verruca-vulgaris