Warts are benign (non-cancerous) lumps on the skin. They can develop anywhere on your body, but are most frequently found on the palms, knuckles, knees and fingers. They're more common in children and teenagers than in adults, and are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV). This virus causes your skin to produce more keratin, a chemical that causes skin to harden, which then becomes a wart.
Here are some pointers to help you recognise the various types:
• Most common on the knuckles, fingers and knees
• Round or oval in shape
• Firm and raised with a cauliflower-like texture
• Usually on the sole of your foot
• Flat and white in appearance
• May have small black dots in the centre
• Sometimes painful to walk on
• Most common on the hands, face and legs
• Smooth, flat and yellowish
• Can occur in large clusters (up to several hundred)
• Usually found on the palms or soles of the feet
• Grow in clusters
• Form a tile-like pattern
• Found under and around fingernails or toenails
• Can affect the shape of your nail
• May be painful
• Found around the genitals or anus
• Mostly on the face and neck
• Long and slender in appearance
Are warts contagious?
Warts can be passed on by close skin-to-skin contact, or via contaminated surfaces (at swimming pools, for example). Genital warts can be passed on through sexual contact.
You can reduce the chances of infection by:
• Not sharing flannels, towels or other personal items
• Not sharing socks or shoes
• Making sure not to pick at warts, as this can spread the virus
• Covering up with a plaster or verruca sock
• Wearing sandals in communal showers – verrucas can be transferred from infected surfaces in warm and moist areas
For genital warts, using a condom reduces the risk of transmission, but doesn't provide 100% protection. The virus may be on a part of the skin not covered by the condom.
The HPV vaccination provides some protection against HPV infections that cause genital warts and certain cancers.
Most warts go away on their own, but it can take up to two years. Various treatments are available which can help them disappear faster. Talk to your pharmacist for advice as not all of them are suitable for everyone.
Treatment for genital warts needs to be prescribed by a doctor. If you think you may have a genital wart, visit a sexual health or a GUM (genitor-urinary medicine) clinic.
Salicylic acid treatments
These are available as creams, gels, paint or plasters. You may need to apply the treatment for up to 12 weeks, or longer. This treatment isn't suitable for the face or genital region, for broken or inflamed skin or people with poor circulation. Talk to your pharmacist if you're unsure if this is suitable for you.
These use very cold liquids to freeze and destroy the affected skin cells. They can be quite painful to use, so may not be suitable for children. You should not use these treatments on your face. You can buy freezing treatments in a pharmacy, or your Doctor may be able to freeze a wart or a verruca so it falls off after few weeks. Read the patient information leaflet for instructions on how to use any product.
When to see your Doctor
Most warts can be managed and treated at home, but you should see your Doctor if:
• You have a wart on your face or genitals. For genital warts, you can also consider visiting a sexual health clinic
• Your wart bleeds
• You notice any spreading or changes in appearance
• It's causing you significant embarrassment or distress
• You’re worried about a growth on your skin
Your Doctor may offer freezing treatment, or refer you to a specialist. You may also be offered treatments including minor surgery, laser therapy or light therapy.
• Help prevent warts from spreading by not sharing personal items, keeping them covered and avoiding the temptation to pick
• Many warts can be treated at home. Talk to your pharmacist for treatment advice
• If you have warts on your face or genitals, see your Doctor