Warts are small, rough growths on your skin which are usually harmless, although they can be unsightly and cause discomfort.

By Wallace Health I Medically reviewed by Adrian Roberts.
Page last reviewed: October 2018 I Next review due: October 2021

What are warts?

Warts are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV). This virus is spread through skin-to-skin contact or by touching surfaces contaminated with HPV.

Warts are common – most people have a wart at some point in their lives. They can affect you at any age, although they’re more likely to appear when you’re a teenager or young adult.

Warts can appear almost anywhere on your skin. However, warts on hands and warts on feet (verrucas) are most likely.

Warts often go away naturally but, if required, can usually be treated with over-the-counter or prescribed medications. Warts can also be removed by freezing (cryotherapy) or, occasionally, with minor surgery.

How to tell if you have a wart

Warts are usually painless but can sometimes be itchy or bleed.

There are several different types of warts.

Common warts

  • Usually develop as warts on hands or knees
  • Skin coloured, firm, raised and rough
  • Small – a common wart can be anything from a pinpoint to a centimetre in diameter

Plane warts

  • Usually found on the face, neck, legs or the backs of your hands
  • Round, smooth, flat and with a yellowish tinge
  • Common in young children
  • Can develop in clusters

Filiform warts

  • Can develop on the neck or face
  • Long and slender, finger-shaped

Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about symptoms

You can book an appointment with a Spire private GP today.

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Diagnosis and tests for warts

Although warts tend to disappear, this can take time – sometimes several years.

Talk to a pharmacist, who’ll provide advice on how to get rid of warts. They’ll also be able to explain what causes warts and ways to prevent warts spreading.

If you have a wart that’s causing you pain, embarrassment or discomfort, and over-the-counter medications aren’t helping, see your GP.

You should also see your GP if you have a wart that:

  • Bleeds without being scratched or knocked
  • Looks different
  • Is spreading or growing
  • Is in your genital area – genital warts require specialist treatment

Your GP will examine the wart and surrounding skin. They’ll explain how to remove warts and may prescribe wart-removing medication or refer you for cryotherapy. Very occasionally, your GP will refer you to a dermatologist, a consultant specialising in skin conditions.

Common treatments for warts

To reduce your risk of developing warts or warts spreading to other parts of your body, you should:

  • Avoid touching other people’s warts
  • Avoid scratching or picking warts
  • Taking care when shaving - HPV can be spread by tiny cuts

Your GP may prescribe medication containing salicylic acid to burn the wart away or refer you for cryotherapy. Cryotherapy freezes warts away using liquid nitrogen. In some cases, your GP may suggest combining treatment with salicylic acid medication and cryotherapy.

If medication and/or cryotherapy fails to remove your wart, your GP or consultant may suggest minor surgery. This involves having your wart lasered off, scraped away (curettage) or treated with light therapy (photodynamic therapy).

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