Causes of warts
Warts are a viral infection in the skin, caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV).
Warts spread through direct, repeated skin contact with people who are already infected. But not all people who come into contact with warts develop them. This is because people have differing levels of immunity to warts.
Symptoms of warts
Warts usually appear gradually.
Common warts grow anywhere but most often on the arms, hands, fingers, legs, feet and face. They’re usually pinkish or flesh-coloured, and have a raised, rough appearance. They have a distinct border with the skin and might have tiny dark dots inside them.
Plantar warts grow on the soles of the feet. They often look flat on top where you walk on them. They can be uncomfortable.
Plane warts are small, almost flat and flesh coloured. They often grow in groups over the back of the hands or the face.
Genital warts occur around the groin region.
Warts can develop as single growths or they can group together to make a pattern that looks like mosaic tiles. These are called mosaic warts.
Warts are generally painless – except for plantar warts, which can be painful to walk on.
When to see your doctor about warts
You should take your child to your GP if:
- there are warts on your child’s face, feet or genitals
- the wart looks infected or very red
- the wart is painful or bleeding
- you’re in any doubt that it actually is a wart
- the wart has been there for a long time
- the wart isn’t responding to treatment, or new warts appear.
Treatment for warts
Most warts go away by themselves in time.
If your child is bothered by the appearance of a wart, see your GP. The GP can tell you the most appropriate way to get rid of the warts.
Many people use wart paint to get rid of warts. Wart paint treatments usually contain a combination of acids that destroy skin cells. Although wart paints are slow to work, they’re relatively painless compared with other treatments.
You can buy wart paints at your local pharmacy and apply them at home. If you need a stronger solution, your GP can give you a prescription.
If you’re using wart paint, you should prepare the wart before applying the paint.
First, soak the affected area in warm water for 5-10 minutes. Treating your wart after a shower can help with this step. Next, rub the wart with a nail file, emery board, pumice stone or even sandpaper. Then put the paint on the wart, avoiding the healthy skin around it. Last, let the paint dry and cover the area with sticking plaster.
You usually need to use wart paint every day, and it can take many weeks to work.
Liquid nitrogen works more quickly than wart paint, but it’s painful.
Your doctor usually sprays the liquid nitrogen directly onto the wart. This freezes the top layers of the wart, which destroys the infected tissue and releases the virus into the bloodstream. The body’s immune system then finds and fights the infection.
The treated area might be painful for minutes or even hours. A crust or blister will form and then drop off within a week.
You usually need several applications of liquid nitrogen. Sometimes the liquid nitrogen is applied using a cotton bud rather than a spray.
Burning and laser
Burning and laser wart removal treatments are done under local anaesthetic. Both treatments can leave scars, which might make it difficult to treat the wart if it comes back in the same spot.
Immunotherapy involves putting differing concentrations of allergic solution on the wart. This creates a type of skin inflammation, which causes the immune system to kill off the wart. This treatment takes time and can be very itchy.
This is a treatment for genital warts, not common warts. Sometimes it’s also useful for small plane warts in areas that are hard to treat, like the face.
Prevention of warts
If your child has a wart or warts, it’s a good idea to explain to your child that picking at the wart might cause more warts. It might also lead to infection. Chewing on a wart might lead to warts appearing on your child’s lips or face a few months later.
Unless your child repeatedly touches another child’s warts, he’s unlikely to be infected by other people.
Take care that your child wears thongs or sandals in public showers or changing rooms. These are places where he could catch plantar warts.