prevention and treatment of warts

Dermatology • Mar 27, 2019

War Against Warts | Prevention & Treatment

Warts are usually a benign skin condition but can sometimes become painful or unsightly. They commonly appear as small areas of hardened skin or a tiny cauliflower-like growth in varying sizes, colors, and shapes. The cause of warts is a virus in the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) family. Warts mostly occur in older children (in almost one in three children), especially in teenagers. They only occur in about five percent of adults. You can pick up the infection through direct contact with warts in another person, or by touching surfaces (such as chairs) or things (like towels) that another person with warts has used. People with weakened immune systems, such as people on chemotherapy or immunosuppressant medications, and people with HIV are especially prone to developing the infection.

Common Types of Warts:

  1. Common warts that are usually grayish-brown in color and dome-shaped, and occur mostly on knees, elbows, and hands
  2. Palmar warts occur on the hands and Plantar warts on the bottom of the feet–usually painless but can gradually grow or become painful over time
  3. Flat warts are small and flat-topped; they occur on the face and sometimes on the hands, knees, and elbows
  4. Genital warts can be spread by sexual contact, and certain strains of the virus put you at a higher risk of developing cancer

In about 30% of people with a normal immune system, warts go away on their own in one to five years without any medical treatment. They can sometimes recur in the same area or in new areas of the body. People usually seek treatment for removal of warts when they become painful, progressively become bigger or numerous, or are cosmetically unacceptable.


An important measure for prevention of warts is maintaining good hygiene. The virus tends to thrive in warm, moist places like cuts and scratches on the skin. Nail biting also disrupts the integrity of the skin and provides an entry point for the infection. It is important to avoid rubbing or scratching on warts on your own body. This can cause the spread of the infection. Wear footwear in public places such as gyms or swimming pools. Also, sit on a clean towel in saunas to help prevent infection.


The treatment of warts can include home remedies, as well as treatment in a medical office setting.

Home Treatments

Always consult your doctor before proceeding with home treatment for your warts.

At home, you can use over-the-counter measures such as salicylic acid, available as a patch or liquid. Apply to a wart that has been soaked in water for 10 to 15 minutes and dried before application of the medicine. Some people also have good results with the use of duct tape applied to the wart and left for five to six days. Soak the wart in water for 10 to 15 minutes after the tape is removed. In both therapies, use a nail file or pumice stone to gently slough off dead skin from the wart surface after the treatment. If needed, you can try both salicylic acid patches and duct tape measures repeatedly (but allow at least a day between treatments).

Treatment by a Doctor

Treatment at the doctor’s office is common for resistant or recurrent warts that are not treatable at home. Treatments include:

  • Cryotherapy, where liquid nitrogen is applied in multiple treatments to freeze off the warts
  • Curettage, where the doctor uses a specialized blade to surgically remove the wart after numbing the skin
  • Prescription medications that are either injected into the warts or applied locally at the medical office

Rarely, cancerous skin growths can look like warts. These will need to be evaluated by a dermatologist. It is necessary to understand that warts may be chronic or recurrent. Sometimes warts need lifestyle modifications and even a combination of therapies to effectively treat them.