Written by Ada’s Medical Knowledge Team
What are common warts?
Common warts, also known as verruca vulgaris, is a common dermatological condition that causes small, fleshy growths on the skin. They are most often found on the hands or fingers, but can also occur in any other non-genital location. Common warts are caused by an infection with certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) – an umbrella term for a large group of viruses causing different conditions.
HPV is contagious, meaning common warts can be passed from person to person, whether through direct skin-to-skin contact or indirectly through contact with a surface or object that is carrying the virus. People with weakened immune systems and children are more at risk of developing common warts.
The condition is generally considered to be non-serious and will often clear naturally without treatment. However, if necessary, treatment options, including minor removal procedures and home remedies, are available.
Symptoms of common warts
Common warts are easy to recognize and differentiate from other wart types, such as genital warts, filiform warts or plantar warts. They typically appear on the hands or fingers, though can appear in any non-genital location, including the knees, ankles, arms and legs.
Common warts are generally:
- Small, raised skin growths
- Oval or round in shape
- Rough to the touch
- Hard around the edges and softer in the middle
- Speckled with small black dots or “seeds”.
Good to know: Some people describe the look as a wart with black seeds. The small black dots or spots in a wart are sometimes called wart “seeds”. However, these are not seeds at all, they are actually small blood vessels.
When to see a doctor
Medical attention should be sought if:
- Warts cause pain or change color
- Warts spread, do not respond to treatment or frequently recur
- The person has a weakened immune system
- There is uncertainty as to whether the growths are common warts or a different condition.
What causes common warts?
Common warts are caused by infection with human papillomavirus (HPV). There are over 100 different types of HPV that a person can contract, each affecting one or several different areas of the body and causing various conditions.
HPV infects the skin through small cuts, scrapes or weak spots, with warts appearing approximately two to six months later.. The virus causes the protein keratin to develop in excess on the surface of the skin, resulting in the appearance of a wart.
Common warts are particularly prevalent in children and young adults, as well as people with weakened immune systems as a result of conditions such as HIV/AIDS, certain other severe and long-lasting medical conditions, receiving certain kinds of chemotherapy, or after procedures such as organ transplantation and the ensuing treatment.
HPV is contagious and is passed on through direct skin-to-skin contact or indirect contact with objects or surfaces. Damaged or wet skin is most likely to pick up the virus, meaning locations such as swimming pools and showers, especially public ones, are particularly common sources of infection.
Diagnosing common warts
In the majority of cases, a doctor or dermatologist will be able to diagnose common warts through a simple physical examination. If further confirmation is needed, a skin biopsy may be ordered. To do this, the top layer of a wart will be scraped off and sent to a laboratory for testing. This is a straightforward and minimally invasive procedure.
Common warts treatment
Common warts will often disappear without treatment, especially in childhood. However, common warts can also be persistent and last for a significant amount of time. They can sometimes be painful and unsightly, especially when they form in clusters. In these cases, treatment options are available.
Prescription wart treatments
Prescription wart treatments may be used in conjunction with home remedies or when home treatment options seem unlikely to clear the condition. The method chosen by the doctor or dermatologist will depend on the severity of the warts, the symptoms and the general health of the person.
- Salicylic acid: This is a popular method for treating warts. Salicylic acid works by gradually dissolving layers of the wart tissue, eventually resulting in total removal. It is generally applied to the wart as a gel or liquid. Though salicylic acid is also available in over-the-counter products, prescription varieties are typically stronger and more effective. Along with peeling away the surface of the warts, salicylic acid may also encourage the body’s immune system to combat the virus.
- Cryotherapy: Generally performed by a doctor or dermatologist, cryotherapy is a method of freezing warts using liquid nitrogen. After around a week, the resulting dead tissue can be sloughed off. Repeated cryotherapy sessions may be necessary.
Less common treatments
If the above options are ineffective, other, less common treatment methods may be used. These include:
- Trichloroacetic acid: This is a strong acid applied by a doctor or dermatologist to the warts.
- Immunotherapy: The affected person is given antigens, substances which encourage the body’s immune system to fight the wart itself. This treatment is generally reserved for those with recurring common warts.
- Electrosurgery: This method involves burning away the wart tissue using a specially designed heated needle. A local anesthetic will usually be required to numb the pain, and scarring is possible.
- Laser treatment: A laser is used to burn off the skin tissue and remove the wart. It is generally considered to be a last resort option due to the likelihood of scarring and the extended recovery time.
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Home remedies and over-the-counter products for common warts
Given that common warts are generally non-serious, some people may choose to try and treat them at home, possibly after visiting a pharmacy, before seeking professional medical advice. Common techniques for doing this include:
- Salicylic acid products: Non-prescription salicylic acid products, such as plasters, gels and rubs, are available from most pharmacies. These salicylic acid products work in the same way as the prescription version, though may be less powerful. Repeated application will generally be necessary.
- Liquid nitrogen: Non-prescription liquid nitrogen products are generally available from pharmacies for application at home, usually in the form of a liquid or gel.
- Apple cider vinegar: A possible remedy is to mix two parts apple cider vinegar with one part water, apply this to the wart using a cotton ball, and leave the wart to soak in the solution for at least 20 minutes. Repeat this process until the warts have disappeared. Discontinue or consult a medical professional if you experience severe skin irritation or severe pain, and in case of any doubt, always consult a doctor first.
It can take a significant amount of time before home remedies make a difference, and they may not result in wart removal or cause side effects. If treatments prove ineffective or side effects are strong or worrying, seeking professional medical advice is recommended.
Common warts prevention
It can be difficult to fully avoid contracting common warts, and most people experience them at some point in their life. However, certain preventative measures can help reduce the risk. These include:
- Avoiding contact with other people’s warts
- Avoiding contact with clothing, objects or surfaces that may be carrying the virus, e.g. by wearing water shoes or flip-flops in a public pool or public showers
If a person already has warts, they should take steps to avoid spreading the virus to other areas of the body or to other people. They can:
- Avoid unnecessarily touching or scratching the warts
- Cover warts with a plaster, especially when swimming
- Wash the hands regularly, especially after contact with the warts
- Avoid sharing towels and clothing that may come in contact with warts
Common warts FAQs
Q: Are common warts contagious by touch?
A: The virus that causes common warts, human papillomavirus (HPV), is contagious. Children and people with weakened immune systems are particularly at risk of contracting HPV, which can be spread through skin-to-skin contact or through contact with an object or surface carrying the virus. The risk of contracting HPV is especially high in warm, wet conditions, such as those found at a swimming pool or in a locker room.
Q: Are common warts HPV?
A: Common warts are caused by infection with human papillomavirus (HPV), which is an umbrella term for over 100 types of viruses. Certain strains of HPV can cause common warts to develop on the hands, fingers and other non-genital areas of the body. Other strains of HPV can cause different wart types to appear on different parts of the body, including sexually transmittable genital warts, or different conditions altogether, including, in rare cases, cervical cancer or anal cancer.
Q: Are common warts the same as genital warts?
A: No, common warts are not the same as genital warts. Though both types of wart are caused by the HPV group of viruses, the strains that cause each type are different and so are the methods of transmission. Unlike common warts, genital warts are spread through sexual contact, they are an STI/STD. Common warts cannot spread to the pubic area and genital warts cannot spread to the hands or other parts of the body. Read more about genital warts.
Q: Can you get a common wart on your arm?
A: Yes. Though common warts often develop on the hands or fingers, they can also appear anywhere else on the body other than the genital area.
Q: What is the difference between common warts and plantar warts?
A: Both common warts and plantar warts are a product of the human papillomavirus (HPV) group of viruses. Unlike plantar warts, however, common warts can develop anywhere on the body, though most typically grow on the hands and fingers. Plantar warts are found on the feet only.
Q: What is the difference between common warts and water warts?
A: Common warts are caused by infection with HPV. Water warts, also known as molluscum contagiosum, are caused by infection with the molluscum contagiosum virus. The infection causes small, painless raised bumps or lesions on the skin, which often appear in groups and typically clear up on their own.
Q: What kind of wart do I have?
A: If you are concerned about a wart or another skin condition, you can use the Ada app to find out more about your symptoms. To receive a confirmed diagnosis, however, it is necessary to see a licensed doctor.
Q: Do common warts bleed?
A: A common wart should not bleed unless it is scraped, scratched or injured in some way. If a wart bleeds without a clear cause or bleeds profusely after injury, it is important to consult a doctor without delay.
Q: Can common warts be painful?
A: While most warts do not cause pain, some can, especially if they grow in an area which is pressed on often, e.g. a fingertip. If a common wart is painful, it is recommended that you see a doctor to make sure it is not serious and to receive appropriate treatment.
Q: Can a common wart get infected?
A: A wart itself is the result of infection of the skin with HPV. Warts do not generally become infected with bacteria, unless they are scratched, cut or otherwise injured in some way. In such cases, it is possible that bacteria may enter the wart or surrounding area, and a bacterial infection may result, causing pain, discoloration and other symptoms. If you are concerned that a wart may be infected, it is advisable to consult a doctor.
Q: Should I be concerned about common warts during pregnancy?
A: No, infection with HPV should not pose any risk to your baby. As in any case of common warts, no treatment may be necessary, though options are available over the counter and from doctors.
Q: Does duct tape work on common warts?
A: Occasionally recommended as a home remedy for warts, duct tape has not been confirmed as an effective treatment. Research is conflicting, but some people believe that doing the following may help to get rid of a common wart:
- Covering the wart with a small piece of duct tape
- Removing the duct tape every three to six days and gently using an emery board or pumice stone on the wart
- Covering the wart with a fresh piece of duct tape about 10 to 12 hours later
Results may only be seen after a number of weeks, if at all. Duct tape can cause skin irritation, bleeding and pain when removed. It should never be used in sensitive areas, such as the underarms or face.
Q: What are the signs that a common wart is going away?
A: When it is clearing up, or “dying”, a wart may shrink and start to disappear. This may happen on its own or with treatment.
Q: What should I do if a common wart won’t go away?
A: If a wart does not go away after treatment with prescription and/or home remedies, it is recommended that you see a doctor to rule out other conditions and ensure that the most appropriate treatment is being used.
Other names associated with common warts
- Verruca vulgaris
- Palmar warts, sometimes misspelled as palmer warts
WebMD. “Warts: 10 Answers to Frequently Asked Questions.” July 15, 2017. Accessed August 17, 2017. ↩ ↩
UpToDate. “Cutaneous warts (common, plantar, and flat warts).” July 26, 2017. Accessed August 15, 2017. ↩ ↩
Journal of drugs in dermatology. “Comparative study of topical 80% trichloroacetic acid with 35% trichloroacetic acid in the treatment of the common wart.” November, 2012. Accessed February 24, 2018. ↩