Warts are benign skin tumors, caused by the human papillomavirus. There are over 100 types of HPV, and different strains of this virus cause warts to form on different parts of your body—hands, feet, limbs, groin area, or elsewhere.

How are they caused?

Warts can spread from one person to another, through skin-to-skin contact or things like shared towels and exercise equipment. You can also spread warts to other areas on your own body, through touching them with an affected area. However, not everyone who comes in contact with HPV will develop warts.

What are the types?

Common warts are small, flesh-colored, cauliflower-type growths that occur most often on your fingers or hands. They may have tiny black dots inside them.

Plantar warts grow into the soles of your feet, rather than on top of your skin. They look like small holes in your feet, surrounded by hard skin, and they can be painful.

Flat warts are often on the face, thighs, or arms. They’re small and pink, brownish, yellow, or flesh-toned.

Filiform warts grow on your mouth, nose, neck, and chin. They’re flesh-colored and appear as a small flap or tag of skin.

Periungual warts grow under and around the nails and can cause pain and stunt nail growth.

When should I see a doctor?

If you have warts on your face or another sensitive part of your body, such as your mouth, nose or genitals, if your wart is painful or changes color, or if your wart bleeds or oozes, you should make an appointment with a dermatologist. If your warts are spreading, or if you have a compromised immune system (cancer, diabetes, or HIV), it’s also good to get checked out.

What is the treatment?

There are a variety of ways to get rid of warts. The best choice depends on the type of wart you have and its location on your body. Treatment options include oral or topical medicines, gradually burning the wart away with a mild acid, freezing the wart with liquid nitrogen, lasering the wart off, or rarely, surgery.

If the wart is frozen off, liquid nitrogen will be applied topically, which may briefly sting. A blister or scab will form at the site, and in usually less than a week, the blister/wart will break up and come off. It typically takes multiple treatments spaced a few weeks apart to completely remove the wart.

Can warts be prevented?

Avoid direct contact with your own or someone else’s warts, and don’t pick at or shave over them. Don’t share emery boards, nail clippers, or pumice stones, always wear flip-flops in public showers, and wash your hands often, especially after going to the gym.

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