A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Warts: Scary or just unsightly?

Illustration - Warted witch - What to do with a wart

While warts might spook you, there is little to worry about from a health perspective.

Beauty is only skin-deep, and, thankfully, we can say the same for warts.

“Warts are an overgrowth of tissue caused by the wart virus infecting skin cells,” said Dr. Lawrence Scherrer, a Marshfield Clinic dermatologist. “As extensive and deep as warts may look, they are entirely limited to the upper layer of skin called the epidermis.”

Are warts contagious?

Yes, warts are contagious, and they spread as skin cells fall off a wart. Human papillomavirus, or HPV, is the virus that causes warts.

“Warts don’t spread easily, however,” Scherrer said. “You tend to most often see warts in kids who have not been exposed to the virus before.”

Scherrer added it is difficult for the virus to take root where skin is intact.

“Simply touching a wart is not something that’s likely to cause a problem,” Scherrer said.

Do warts have associated symptoms?

You do not get sick or experience other symptoms when you have a wart.

“In most cases, warts are harmless aside from the fact that people may find them unsightly,” Scherrer said.

How can I get rid of a wart?

Usually, if left alone, warts disappear over time. However, it could take months or years for the wart to vanish.

“If the wart isn’t bothersome, it doesn’t have to be treated. It’s not harmful,” Scherrer said. “Warts hide from your immune system, so it can take a long time for them to disappear.”

Over-the-counter wart removal products can be effective, Scherrer said. Typically, these products contain salicylic acid and work by peeling off the top layer of skin where the wart resides.

Home remedies like using duct tape can work, Scherrer said.

“With duct tape, you’re just peeling off that layer of skin and that can work,” Scherrer said. “There are a ton of different home remedies that could work, mostly because they irritate the area where the wart is, which can help your body recognize there’s an infection there.”

The truth is nothing really works great for warts, Scherrer said.

“It’s always hard to tell if a home remedy actually worked or if the wart just happened to go away after the treatment,” he added.

Even freezing, burning or cutting a wart off may not work because HPV also lives in the skin cells surrounding the wart.

If a wart is persistent and bothering you, a trip to the dermatologist is a sensible next step, Scherrer said.

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