Learn more about warts and verrucae: introduction
Warts are small lumps that develop on the skin. Verrucas are a type of wart that affect the bottom of the feet.
Most people will have warts at some point in their life. They're generally harmless and tend to go away on their own eventually, but this can take months or even years.
Several treatments you can try at home can help get rid of warts and verrucas more quickly if you have one that you find uncomfortable or embarrassing.
Warts can be spread around the body and to other people.
This page covers:
There are separate pages about genital warts.
What warts and verrucas look like
Warts and verrucas come in all shapes and sizes. They can affect any part of the body, but are more common on the hands and feet.
- tend to be round or oval-shaped (although some are long and thin)
- are usually firm and raised
- have a rough, irregular surface similar to a cauliflower (although some are smooth)
- vary in size, from less than 1mm to more than 1cm across
- can appear on their own or in a group
- develop on the soles of the feet
- are white, often with a black dot in the centre
- tend to be flat rather than raised
- can be painful if they're on a weight-bearing part of the foot
Treatments for warts and verrucas
Most warts and verrucas will eventually clear up without treatment.
They can be removed with over-the-counter treatments, but these can be time consuming, painful and don't always work.
Pharmacy treatments include:
- creams, gels, skin paints and medicated plasters containing salicylic acid – these burn the top layer of affected skin
- cold sprays containing dimethyl ether propane – these freeze the wart, but they're not thought to work as well as salicylic acid
There's not enough evidence to suggest applying duct tape to a wart or verruca works, so this isn't generally recommended.
Always check the leaflet that comes with the medication to check it's suitable and to see how to use it. Ask a pharmacist if you're not sure.
Salicylic acid needs to be applied every day. Before using it:
- soak the wart in water for about five minutes to soften it
- apply petroleum jelly to the skin around the wart to protect it
- once a week, gently file the wart down a little using an emery board
While you have a wart or verruca, you should also take steps to avoid passing it to others.
When to see your GP
See your GP for advice if:
- you're not sure whether a lump is a wart – your GP can usually identify a wart by looking at it
- pharmacy treatments haven't worked
- you have a wart on your face – don't treat these yourself
- you have lots of warts or get warts frequently
- a wart bleeds, changes in appearance, spreads or causes significant pain, distress or embarrassment
If pharmacy treatments haven't helped, your GP may try freezing the wart off with liquid nitrogen (cryotherapy). This will take a number of sessions and can be painful. It can also sometimes lead to blistering, infection and scarring.
If this doesn't work, they may be able to refer you to a skin doctor (dermatologist) for specialist treatments such as a minor operation, laser therapy or stronger creams.
Causes of warts and verrucas
Warts are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV). This causes an excess of a substance called keratin to develop in the top layer of skin, resulting in a hard, rough lump.
Warts don't spread easily, but they can be passed on from person to person through close skin contact or contact with contaminated objects or surfaces, such as:
- shoes and socks
- areas surrounding swimming pools
- floors of communal changing areas
You're more likely to get infected if your skin is wet or damaged. After becoming infected, it can take weeks or even months for a wart or verruca to appear.
Preventing warts and verrucas
It's difficult to prevent warts and verrucas completely, but the following measures can help stop them spreading:
- avoid touching other people's warts – wash your hands after touching your own wart
- avoid sharing towels, flannels, shoes and socks with other people
- keep your feet and hands clean and dry
- change your socks every day
- don't go barefoot in public places
- cover warts and verrucas with a waterproof plaster or a verruca sock when swimming
- avoid scratching or picking at warts or verrucas – this may spread the infection to other parts of your body
- take care when shaving because warts can spread if you cut yourself
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