Common Warts Overview

Common warts are just one of the many types of warts that can affect the human body. They are caused by a virus called the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). There are over 100 different strains of HPV and some cause warts to develop on the skin. HPV is highly contagious and can be spread through direct skin to skin contact or through indirect contact such as on towels and pool sides. Warts affect the top layer of the epidermis (skin) and can affect any part of the body but are more commonly found on the hands, on the knuckles and on the fingers around the nails. You may have just one wart or a cluster of warts; usually, however, you won’t have more than 20 warts at any given time.

It is possible that someone who is already infected with the HPV virus and has warts can re-infect themselves on different areas of their body. Warts tend to affect children, young adults and those who suffer with immunodeficiency such as those with HIV/AIDS and people receiving treatment that compromises their immune system. Warts are not usually problematic to the sufferer and can be left to improve on their own. Occasionally the sufferer can experience a problematic wart that does not improve and needs treatment.

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Causes of Common Warts

Common warts are small, fleshy skin growths that most often occur on the fingers or hands. They can be rough to the touch and often demonstrate a pattern of tiny black dots, which are small, clotted blood vessels.

Common warts are caused by certain strains of the HPV virus and are transmitted by touch. Once your skin has been exposed to the virus, it can take a wart as long as two to six months to develop. They are usually harmless and may disappear on their own. However, many people choose to remove them because they find them bothersome or embarrassing

Diagnosis of Common Warts

Your medical professional will often be able to diagnose a common wart with one or more of the following techniques:

  • Examining the wart.
  • Scraping off the top layer of the wart to check for signs of dark, pinpoint dots — clotted blood vessels — which are common with warts.
  • Removing a small section of the wart (shave biopsy) and sending it to a laboratory for analysis to rule out other types of skin growths.

Prevention of Common Warts

To reduce the risk of contracting common warts:

  • Avoid direct contact with warts. This includes your own warts.
  • Don’t pick at warts. Picking may spread the virus.
  • Don’t use the same emery board, pumice stone or nail clipper on your warts as you use on your healthy skin and nails. Use a disposable emery board.
  • Don’t bite your fingernails. Warts occur more often in skin that has been broken. Nibbling the skin around your fingernails opens the door for the virus.
  • Do not use the same pumice stone, emery board or nail clipper on your warts that you use on your healthy nails and skin.
  • Groom with care. And avoid brushing, clipping or shaving areas that have warts. If you must shave, use an electric razor.

Living with Common Warts

Common warts are in fact quite common and are very much treatable. Most often they can be treated at home; however, severe cases of common warts may require treatment at a doctor’s office.

Symptoms of Common Warts

Common warts are small in size and irregular in shape. They are raised areas of rough skin. The common wart affects the top layer of skin (the epidermis) and is most commonly found on the hands around knuckles and the fingers around the nails. Young adults and children are more likely to develop warts as are those with a compromised immune system, such as those with HIV/ AIDS and those who are receiving immunosuppressants for medical reasons such as organ transplants.

Some symptoms may include:

  • Small, fleshy, grainy bumps
  • Flesh-colored, white, pink or tan
  • Rough to the touch
  • Sprinkled with black pinpoints, which are small, clotted blood vessels

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

  • Are common warts contagious?
  • Where on the body do they most often occur?
  • Can they turn cancerous?
  • Are they painful?
  • What tests do I need to take to confirm the lesion is a common wart?

Risk by Age Group

0-2
3-5
6-13
14-18
19-40
41-60
61+

Low Risk

High Risk

 

How Common are Common Warts?

Common warts are very common with more than 3 million cases per year in the United States.

  • Usually self-treatable
  • Usually self-diagnosable
  • Lab tests or imaging rarely required
  • Medium-term: resolves within months
  • Spreads easily

Common Warts Treatment

Many common warts may go away without treatment; however, it may take years before that happens and new warts may develop in the meantime. Some people will choose to have their warts treated as the warts become bothersome, after warts begin spreading, or for cosmetic reasons. The goal of treatment is to destroy the wart, stimulate an immune system response to fight the virus, or both. Even with treatment, warts may recur or spread. Doctors generally start with the least painful methods, especially when treating young children.

Your doctor may suggest one of the following approaches, based on the location of your warts, your symptoms and your preferences. These methods are sometimes used in combination with home treatments, such as salicylic acid (the active ingredient in Wartrin).

If your self-care approach doesn’t help, your doctor may recommend:

  • Stronger peeling medicines that contain salicylic acid which removes the warts layer by layer. These medications may also stimulate the ability of the immune system to defend the body against wart.
  • Freezing (cryotherapy)involves the application of liquid nitrogen to the wart, usually at a doctor’s office. The liquid nitrogen is either applied with a cotton swab or a spray and it can be painful, which is why the doctor may first numb the area.
  • When freezing and salicylic acid do not work, your doctor may recommend minor surgery, the use of other acids, immune therapy, laser treatment or vaccination.
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