Warts and Verrucas

Tracey Sullivan Pharmacy Features Writer

Warts and verrucas appear as small lumps on the skin and range in size from 1mm up to around 1cm. They can appear on their own or in clusters, with several in the same area of skin. They are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV), a virus that infects the top layer of the skin causing it to grow abnormally fast. There are many strains of HPV, with different strains affecting different parts of the body. Warts can occur anywhere on the body but are most common on the knuckles, palms, fingers and knees. A verruca is the name for a wart on the foot. They can be painful if they press on a sensitive part of the foot. Verrucas are most likely to need treatment as they can make standing or walking painful. Verrucas look flatter due to being trod on and may have black or brown dots under hard skin. The dots are tiny clotted blood vessels.

Most people will have a wart or verruca at some stage of their life. While they don’t tend to cause any harm they can be itchy, painful or embarrassing. Warts at the end of fingers can interfere with fine tasks and be especially annoying. Warts usually disappear on their own after several months, but sometimes it may take years. They tend to clear more quickly in children and young people, usually within one to two years. They can be treated if they annoy you, keep coming back or are painful, however while treatment can get warts and verrucas to disappear faster than they would if left untreated, it can be a time-consuming and painful process and they can reoccur.

Warts and verrucas are common in school-aged children as their immune system hasn’t yet developed immunity to the virus, as well as in individuals with eczema due to their defective skin barrier and also in immunocompromised people.

Warts are contagious however they do need close skin-to-skin contact to be passed on directly from one person to another. When skin is damaged, cut or scraped or wet and macerated and in contact with a rough surface such as at the swimming pool or a communal wash area, they are more likely to be transmitted. You can spread them to other areas of your body – if you have warts on your finger, biting your nails can spread the warts to other nails, lips and surrounding skin.

To avoid getting a wart or verruca, don’t share shoes, socks, razors or towels with other people and wear jandals in communal showers.

To avoid spreading a wart, don’t bite or suck fingers that have warts, don’t pick at them and wash hands after touching them. Change socks daily, cover any warts or verrucas with a waterproof plaster when swimming at a public pool or walking barefoot in public. Try not to cut any warts when shaving.

Your local pharmacy can advise you on a range of wart and verruca treatments. These come in the form of plasters, paints, solutions and creams containing salicylic acid or a cold aerosol spray that freezes the wart.

Salicylic acid burns off the top layer of the wart and treatment needs to be daily for up to three months. Some of these treatments can take up to three months to work, may not be completely successful and can irritate the skin.

Liquid nitrogen treatment performed by a GP or practice nurse works by freezing the wart tissue. This treatment may need four to six sessions before success. Stronger treatments such as electrosurgery or laser treatment are used for large and resistant warts. Both can cause scarring and there is potential for the wart to reoccur.

Always see your GP if you are worried about a growth on your skin, a wart or verruca that keeps coming back, is very large or painful, has changed appearance or bleeds, or if you have a wart on the face or genitals.

This blog provides general information and discussion about medicine, health and related subjects. The information contained in the blog and in any linked mate­ri­als, are not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.

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