Warts are common and, in most cases, harmless. But that doesn’t make these lumps and bumps any less bothersome. Indeed, while some warts go away on their own and barely make themselves known, others stick around and become itchy, unsightly nuisances that demand intervention. It’s not easy to know whether or not a wart will be of this stubborn variety, but regardless, catching a wart in its earliest stages makes it much easier to eliminate. With that in mind, let’s go over how to detect warts and what you can do about them.
The first step in recognizing the emergence of a wart is knowing which factors can lead to wart formation. The human papillomavirus (HPV) is to blame for warts of all kinds, including common warts, plantar warts, and genital warts. This virus can gain entry into your skin and body in various ways, and certain environmental conditions allow HPV to thrive, increasing the risk of transmission. Shower floors and other warm, damp surfaces can provide a comfortable home for HPV, for instance. If your skin is exposed and makes contact with such a surface (or someone else’s warts), HPV can make its way into your skin's outer layers and grow from there -- especially if your skin contains openings (i.e. cuts and scrapes). HPV can also be spread sexually, causing genital warts and potentially developing into cervical or penile cancer.
So, the best way to prevent warts from forming on your skin is to avoid making direct contact with surfaces and individuals that may carry HPV. Despite your best efforts in this area, though, you may still end up with warts. In some cases, warts can resemble other types of skin growths and phenomena, such as calluses, skin tags, and pimples. That said, there are usually some visible differences that, upon close inspection, let you know whether something is a wart or not, such as location, shape, size, and coloration. Knowing what these visual cues are for different kinds of warts will help you receive the proper wart treatment for your needs (with the aid of your dermatologist, of course).
Common warts, for instance, are typically small, flesh-colored, and show up on hands, fingers, feet, and near nails. They may resemble skin tags, but their rough texture and the presence of tiny black dots (clotted blood vessels) give away that they’re warts. On the other hand, plantar warts always appear on foot soles and are flat, tough, and have a white-yellowish color that makes them look like calluses -- like common warts, though, they’ll feature numerous black dots that give up the goose. As for genital warts (which show up on and near the genital regions), these take the form of scattered, flesh-colored clusters that are cauliflower-like in texture. If you know what to look for, genital warts are relatively easy to identify, but they often appear 1-2 months after a sexual encounter, which can make it difficult for some to track. Other wart types have unique characteristics as well.
Once you’ve detected a wart on your skin, what comes next? Before anything else, it’s important to receive a proper diagnosis to ensure that the growth is indeed a wart and to classify which type of wart it is. After all, different treatments are designed for different types of warts. That said, the main options for wart removal include:
Over-the-counter wart treatments (i.e. salicylic acid liquids and pads) -- these are effective at drying out most common and plantar warts.
Cryotherapy (wart freezing) -- a dermatologist can apply liquid nitrogen to a stubborn wart until it falls off, which may take more than one treatment.
Electrodesiccation and curettage -- here, the wart is cut away via electric needle.
Laser surgery -- certain lasers emit a frequency of light that vaporizes the blood vessels that harbor warts.
Vaccines for HPV (i.e. Cervarix and Gardasil) -- FDA-approved vaccinations that grant the body some immunity against HPV, primarily to prevent genital warts and cervical cancer.
Medication injections (i.e. bleomycin) -- these are injected directly into the wart, destroying it.
Arming yourself with knowledge regarding wart formation, appearances, and treatment options will help keep your skin wart-free. The experts at Premier Dermatology Partners are here to provide you with more insight into everything warts so you can maintain beautiful, smooth, comfortable skin. To learn more about our providers and all the services we offer, contact us today.