Warts

Warts are benign skin growths that appear when a virus infects the top layer of the skin. Viruses that cause warts are called human papillomavirus (HPV). You are more likely to get one of these viruses if you cut or damage your skin in some way.  Warts are often skin-colored and feel rough, but they can be dark (brown or gray-black), flat, and smooth.

Wart viruses are contagious. Warts can spread by contact with the wart or something that touched the wart. Warts can grow on any part of your body.

How do dermatologists diagnose warts?

A dermatologist can tell whether you have a wart by looking at it. In rare cases, a dermatologist may need to perform a skin biopsy to be certain. If a dermatologist needs to perform a biopsy, the doctor will remove the wart and send it to a lab. At the lab, a small piece of the wart will be looked at under a microscope.

How do dermatologists treat warts?

Warts often go away without treatment. This is especially true when children get warts. In adults, warts may not disappear as easily or as quickly as they do in children. Although most warts are harmless, dermatologists do treat them.

You should see a dermatologist if you cannot get rid of the warts, the warts hurt, or you have many warts. Dermatologists have many treatments for warts. The treatment used depends on the patient’s age and health as well as the type of wart.

A dermatologist may use one of the following treatments:

Cantharidin:  A dermatologist may treat a wart in the office by “painting” it with cantharidin. Cantharidin causes a blister to form under  the wart. In a week or so, you can return to the office and the dermatologist will clip away the dead wart.  It is common to need repeat treatments.

Cryotherapy: For common warts in adults and older children, cryotherapy (freezing) is the most common treatment. This treatment is not too painful. It can cause dark spots in people who have dark skin. It is common to need repeat treatments.

Electrosurgery and curettage:  Electrosurgery (burning) is a good treatment for common warts, filiform warts, and foot warts. Curettage involves scraping off (curetting) the wart with a sharp knife or small, spoon-shaped tool. These two procedures often are used together. The dermatologist may remove the wart by scraping it off before or after electrosurgery.

Excision: The doctor may cut out the wart (excision).