Warts aren’t pretty, but they do have variety. They can come in all shapes and sizes, show up as single bumps, clumps or flat lesions; in hues of white, pink or tan. They can have black dots in the middle that look like seeds, dents or smooth surfaces.
Unfortunately, warts also vary in terms of their impact on the people they infect. Common warts are almost always harmless, although they can look unappealing.
We talked with Kate DeGeorge, MD, for the scoop on what warts are normal and which need medical attention and special care.
All About Warts
How do you get warts?
Warts are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV); over 100 strains of HPV exist. Common warts (warts that live on the skin) occur mostly in kids, young adults or in people who are immunocompromised. They spread through wart-to-skin contact. They spread more easily if you have cuts or scrapes; biting your nails or picking at hangnails can make you more prone to getting warts on your fingers or hands.
Can all warts become genital warts?
Yikes! No. Definitely not. Different strains of HPV cause genital warts than cause common skin warts.
What warts are common, not harmful?
Common warts cause no harm other than being unsightly.
While some strains of HPV can cause cervical cancer, strains that cause genital warts carry a very low risk of cervical cancer. Those high-risk HPV strains are part of what we look for with pap smears.
When is a wart harmful?
For immunocompromised people, like those with HIV/AIDS or who have had an organ transplant and take medications to prevent rejection, it can be impossible to get rid of warts entirely. For these people, there is also a very small chance that a wart could become cancerous.
When is a bump or wart a cause for concern?
You should have a bump checked by your doctor if it:
- Bleeds, itches or is painful
- Isn’t clearly a wart
- Grows or changes
- Interferes with activities
- Doesn’t go away with over-the-counter treatments
How do you treat a wart?
Find a primary care doctor near you.
You can choose one of three options.
- Watch and wait. Most warts will go away on their own within 18 months.
- Try over-the-counter treatments. These include:
- Salicylic acid
- Cryotherapy (freezing liquid)
- Duct tape (apply and leave in place for about a week, then pumice or file the wart and repeat until wart is gone)
- See your doctor, who may treat your wart with:
- Topical solutions (including salicylic acid) that induce peeling
- Cryotherapy (freezing warts off)
- Laser treatment
- Excision (cutting the wart out)
It’s important that you don’t pick at your warts or surrounding skin, because that can actually increase the spread of the warts or make more grow nearby.