At one time or another we’ve all had the discomfort of finding a wart on our bodies. Most of the time it seems like they come from nowhere. And while they seem harmless it’s important to understand what causes warts, distinguishing between different types, and knowing what your treatment options are as well as when to make an appointment to see your dermatologist.
What Causes Warts?
Common warts are caused by viruses in the human papilloma virus (HPV) family, infecting the top layer of the skin. The wart is created by a rapid growth of cells on the outer layer of the skin after the virus invades the area.
As the name suggests common warts are, well, common. There are more than 100 unique types of HPV that scientists have identified over time. The majority of individuals will have at least one common wart at some point within their lifetime, and they often appear on the hands.
How are warts contracted?
Warts are contracted through direct contact. That means your skin has touched a wart-causing virus from one surface or another. Most often it happens from skin-to-skin contact like a hand shake or inanimate objects like door knobs or towels that have been used or touched by someone with a wart.
Areas of the skin that are cut or damaged are far more likely to contract a wart once it comes in contact with the virus. Think small scratches, scrapes, or even a habit like fingernail biting. Cuts or nicks in the skin resulting from shaving can also provide a window for HPV to enter the body and cause a wart. Which is why it’s often common for women to have warts appear on their legs while men may find a wart in their beard area.
Types of Warts
Generally this article covers common warts, but it’s important to understand and distinguish between different types of warts as they all have some similarities in appearance, locations, and come from the same family of virus, HPV.
Common warts – Found on the hands, knees, and/or elbows. They appear as small raised bumps, sometimes grouped together like cauliflower.
Flat warts – These types of warts are very small and appear as flat bumps in large numbers (up to 100!), often appearing on the face or back of hands. Often, though, these are the warts that appear in shaving areas: beards for men and legs for women.
Foot/plantar warts – Often appear to be thick callouses that pop up in clusters. They’re more common in people who spend time doing activities barefooted (like gymnasts or dancers).
Genital warts – Genital warts are one of the more common types of warts to appear. Usually they’re benign, but it’s important to get any warts in these areas examined as certain strains of HPV can cause cancer.
Filiform warts – These warts appear as spiky growths on the face around the eyes and mouth. They can be more problematic because of their locations, appearance, and the fact they tend to be fast-growing.
Treatment and Prevention
Often times, common warts can disappear over time without treatment. However it can take as long as a year or more to disappear fully. And when a wart is left untreated, there’s also a risk in opening up the opportunity for more warts to appear and spread nearby.
Which is why it’s often encouraged to get warts looked at and treated as quickly as possible. Though there aren’t really any inherent risks in having warts, they’re generally more of a nuisance.
Treatment methods will vary on a case by case basis based on the location of the warts, any other existing symptoms or conditions, as well as the patient’s personal preference. The goal of treatment is to stimulate a response from your immune system, destroy the wart, or both.
Prescription-strength wart medications with salicylic acid are used to peel layers of the wart away. Often times these topical medications are even more effective when combined with freezing or cryotherapy.
Cryotherapy will have to be performed at your dermatologist’s office. The procedure involves applying liquid nitrogen directly to the wart. Eventually the dead tissue falls off, and your immune system responds by fighting off the infection.
Usually salicylic acid and/or cryotherapy are effective at treating warts. But in other cases, alternative topical treatments or procedures may be utilized.
Preventing warts mainly comes via avoiding direct contact with HPV. General hygiene practices, especially in situations that are more risky than others (like a public gym or locker room). Otherwise, wash your hands thoroughly and regularly, and try to keep your skin as healthy and cut-free as possible.
Who’s at risk?
Given that regular contact with wart-causing viruses is somewhat common, why do some individuals appear to be affected by warts more often than others? While there’s no exact answer, most doctors believe it has a lot to do with our immune systems.
Some individuals may simply be more susceptible to contracting warts than others. Which would explain why children, whose immune systems are still building up their strength, get warts much more often than adults.
When to See a Dermatologist
If you’re someone who gets warts often, paying a visit to your dermatologist can help you develop better habits and increase your body’s defense against HPV.
Trust your body. If you have warts that worry you or are in unfavorable locations, schedule an appointment. Your dermatologist will help you figure out the best treatment approach for removal and future prevention from warts.
Reach out to us at the Dermatology Center of Acadiana today and schedule a consultation! An annual check up with your dermatologist is a great way to minimize your risk and have any warts properly examined. After all, everyone’s skin is unique. It’s important to get the advice and perspective of a medical professional to have a full grasp of how to approach your skin care.