Common warts are growths that appear on your hands and fingers (as well as other areas) when the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) infects the top layer of the skin. They're generally harmless, though quite contagious. And they typically go away on their own sooner or later. Wart treatment may help remove these often unsightly growths and thus reduce the chance of spreading more widely or to other people.

At-Home Treatments

Common warts are most frequently treated at home, but if you're not sure if a growth is a wart, speak to a doctor before you begin home care since some warts can be confused with other growths including, in very rare cases, skin cancer. . Here are some home-treatment options for warts:

Salicylic acid is the most common ingredient in drugstore wart medications and in removal patches. Choose one that contains 17 percent of salicylic acid and use as directed. These will generally require a few weeks of application, followed by filing off the dead skin with a nail file. Be forewarned that this acid can irritate the skin around the wart and should not be used when pregnant.

Duct tape is your cheapest option. Apply the tape for 6 days, then remove it and soak the wart in warm water. Follow by rubbing the wart with an emery board, which should remove part of the wart. Repeat the taping, soaking, filing process as needed to remove the whole wart.

Recently, home wart freezing kits have become available. These can be helpful in home treatment of warts but do not perform as well as medical freezing treatment with liquid nitrogen.

Doctor-Assisted Treatments

If your warts don't respond to home therapies, your doctor may try one or more of these treatments to remove your warts:

  • In-office freezing or cryotherapy uses liquid nitrogen to destroy the wart. It can be painful as well as scary for kids, but it doesn't require any needles or injections. This treatment is moderately effective.
  • Cantharidin is an extract applied to the wart, causing the skin around and beneath the wart to blister and, with healing, fall off. This treatment is essentially painless and does not require needles so it can be ideal for many younger children. It is, at best, moderately successful.
  • Curettage surgery (with or without the use of electricity for burning) is sometimes used to remove warts. In this treatment the doctor either scrapes the wart off directly with specialized instruments or "burns" it first and then scrapes it off. This is often the most effective treatment for warts on the fingers and around the nails.
  • Laser surgery may be tried for hard-to-remove warts and produces mixed results.
  • Chemical peels are commonly used for areas covered with lots of warts.
  • Prescription-strength salicylic acid, retinoids, and fluorouracil are topical formulas that can be prescribed for home treatment of stubborn warts.
  • If your warts won't respond to traditional treatments, your doctor may try immunotherapy to tackle the HPV itself.

The response to wart treatment, whether at home or with a doctor, is notoriously unpredictable. Some warts will resolve on their own without treatment and others seemingly resist all attempts at treatment. Treatment must be customized based on your individual situation. In many cases, curettage with or without burning can be the most effective treatment but it must be administered with care to minimize the risk of scarring from treatment. When considering treatment it is important to remember that, sooner or later, almost all warts go away on their own.

Prevent Warts From Growing or Spreading

If you are prone to developing warts, it's likely that they will come back. Be sure to take precautions to reduce your risk of re-growth or spreading.

  • Never pick your warts.
  • Keep warts as dry as possible.
  • Don't bite your nails.
  • Don't comb, clip, or shave wart-infected areas.
  • Try to keep your wart from touching other parts of your body.
  • Wash your hands regularly, especially around the wart.

Dr. Craig Kraffert reviewed this article.


Sources: "Warts." American Academy of Dermatology. Web. 2011. "Warts: Diagnosis, Treatment, and Outcome." American Academy of Dermatology. Web. 2011.