What are warts?
Warts are skin growths caused by a viral infection in the top layer of the skin. Viruses that cause warts are called human papillomavirus (HPV).They may occur anywhere on the body but are frequently seen on the hands, feet and face that are areas of frequent contact. The typical wart is a rough, round or oval lump on the skin that may be lighter or darker than the normal skin colour and, rarely, black. Women and children are more likely to have warts.
There are several kinds of warts. They are categorized depending upon their appearance and area of growth:
- Common warts
- Foot or Plantar warts
- Flat warts
- Genital warts
- Cervical warts
- Laryngeal warts
- Common warts – usually grow on the fingers, around the nails and on the back of the hands. These are more common where the skin has been broken, for example where fingernails are bitten or hangnails picked. These are also called “seed” warts because the blood vessels supplying blood to the wart produce black dots that looks like seeds. Common warts cause no discomfort unless they bleed.
- Foot or Plantar warts – are usually seen on the soles (plantar area) of the feet and when found in clusters, are known as mosaic warts. They are generally flat because the pressure of walking flattens them and pushes them back into the skin. They may also have black spots like common warts. Plantar warts can be painful and give a feel of a stone in the shoe. Large numbers of these warts on the soles of the feet makes walking and running difficult. Diabetics and athletes have a high incidence of plantar warts.
- Flat warts – are smaller and smoother than other warts and tend to grow in large numbers, usually 20 to 100 at any one time. They can occur anywhere, but in children they are most common on the face. In adults they are often found in the beard area in men and on the legs in women.
- Genital warts – occur in the genital areas such as vagina, anus, penis and scrotum. They may be raised or flat, single or multiple and clumped together forming a cauliflower like shape. Genital warts are spread usually by skin-to-skin contact during sexual intercourse. Rarely they cause itching or bleeding.
What are the causes of warts?
Warts are caused by papillomavirus and are highly infectious. Warts viruses settle more easily if the skin has been damaged in some way. They can be spread by picking, trimming, biting, or touching them. Warts can be passed from one person to the other from using towels or other objects that were used by a person who has warts. They can also be spread on the face, underarms or legs by shaving. Patients with a weak immune system are also prone to a wart virus infection.
What are the symptoms?
Warts can be found on the hands, feet, forearms, and face and may range in size from a pinhead to a small bean. They can also occur on the voice box or the larynx and cause hoarseness. They generally do not cause pain except in case of foot warts. Warts may cause itching and bleeding.
How are they diagnosed?
The appearance of warts on the skin is usually enough for diagnosis.
What is the treatment?
In most of the cases, warts may disappear without treatment over a period of time. Warts generally disappear much easily and quickly in children. However, warts that are painful and rapidly multiplying need treatment.
Treatment depends on the age of the patient and the type of the wart. Applying salicylic acid gel, solution or plaster can treat young children for warts at home. For adults, cryotherapy (freezing) is generally preferred. This treatment is not too painful and rarely results in scarring. Electro surgery (burning) is another good alternative.
Surgery may be preferred for cosmetic purposes. The doctor uses scalpels to cut out the wart and surrounding tissue. Laser surgery can be used to treat resistant warts that have not responded to other therapies.