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Warts

Warts

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Warts are non-cancerous skin growths caused by a viral infection in the top layer of the skin. Viruses that cause warts are called human papillomavirus (HPV). Warts are usually skin-colored and feel rough to the touch, but they can be dark, flat and smooth. The appearance of a wart depends on where it is growing.

There are several different kinds of warts including:
Common warts
Foot (Plantar) warts
Flat warts

How do you get warts?

Warts are passed from person to person, sometimes indirectly. The time from the first contact to the time the warts have grown large enough to be seen is often several months. The risk of catching hand, foot, or flat warts from another person is small.

Why do some people get warts and others don’t?

Some people get warts depending on how often they are exposed to the virus. Wart viruses occur more easily if the skin has been damaged in some way, which explains the high frequency of warts in children who bite their nails or pick at hangnails. Some people are just more likely to catch the wart virus than are others, just as some people catch colds very easily. Patients with a weakened immune system also are more prone to a wart virus infection.

Do warts need to be treated?

In children, warts can disappear without treatment over a period of several months to years. However, warts that are bothersome, painful, or rapidly multiplying should be treated. Warts in adults often do not disappear as easily or as quickly as they do in children.

How do dermatologists treat warts?

Dermatologists are trained to use a variety of treatments, depending on the age of the patient and the type of wart.

Common warts

Warts may also be treated by “painting” with cantharidin in the dermatologist’s office. Cantharidin causes a blister to form under the wart causing it to peel away as it heals.

Cryotherapy (freezing) is another treatment option. This treatment is not too painful and rarely results in scarring. However, repeat treatments at one to three week intervals are often necessary. Electrosurgery (burning) is another good alternative treatment.

Many warts require more aggressive treatment with laser treatments. The laser uses light thearapy to target the blood supply of the wart to destroy it. Warts on the hands and feet often required this form of treatment.

Flat warts are often too numerous to treat with methods mentioned above. As a result, “peeling” methods using daily applications of salicylic acid, tretinoin, glycolic acid or other surface peeling preparations are often recommended. For some adults, periodic office treatments for surgical treatments are sometimes necessary.

What about the problem of recurrent warts?

Sometimes it seems as if new warts appear as fast as old ones go away. This may happen because the old warts have shed virus into the surrounding skin before they were treated. In reality new “baby” warts are growing up around the original “mother” warts. The best way to limit this is to treat new warts as quickly as they develop so they have little time to shed virus into nearby skin. Often multiple treatments are needed to insure the treated wart has resolved completely.