What are warts?

Warts are benign (noncancerous) raised, rough bumps on the skin caused by human papilloma viruses (HPV). There are over 150 subtypes of HPV, with most strains having preference for certain skin sites over others (for example, HPV1 likes hands and feet, and HPV6 and HPV 11 like genital skin).

Warts can arise anywhere on the skin. They are varied in size and can number from one to dozens. In most people, HPV evades the immune system, and it may take several years for untreated warts to spontaneously go away (the immune system clears the infection). Meanwhile, HPV can spread between people and from one part of the body to another.

If warts are stable and asymptomatic, they can be left alone. However, if warts are large, spreading, or symptomatic, they should be treated. The more warts one has and the larger the warts are, the harder they are to treat.

What are the treatments for warts?

There are many treatments for warts, because no single treatment is universally effective. The most common treatments for warts include freezing with liquid nitrogen and applying salicylic acid products at home, with or without additional steps of occlusion with regular paring of macerated skin. In addition, some warts can be treated with prescription topical medicines, such as podophyllin resin, imiquimod, tretinoin, or with physician-administered medications, such as cantharidin (extract of blister beetle) or Candida antigen.

The goal of all treatments is to kill the skin cells that contain the virus and allow viral particles to be realized to then alert the immune system to the infection. It may take several treatments to eliminate warts, and you must be very compliant, or treatments are unlikely to work.

Individual results may vary.

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