Warts are growths on the skin or mucous membranes and are caused by a viral infection of the outer layer of skin (the epidermis). Warts are for the most part harmless, but their appearance may be unsightly, irritating, and embarrassing. Wart virus infections of the cervix of women are the exception to the rule. This is considered to be a potentially pre-cancerous condition.
How many types of warts are there?
Scientifically, there are numerous subtypes of warts. From a clinical viewpoint, however, dermatologists classify warts on the basis of their location and appearance. For discussion, there are four types:
- Common warts (verruca)
- Flat warts (planar)
- Foot warts (plantar)
- Genital warts (condyloma)
Common warts can occur anywhere on dry skin, but are most often located on the hands. They are usually dry and rough in appearance and are often clustered. Flat warts are smaller and sometimes barely visible. They are often located on the face, arms or legs. Foot warts are generally located on the bottom of the feet and because of the pressure produced by walking, extend beneath the skin surface. They have a tendency to be painful. Genital warts occur on both male and female genitalia. They can be quite variable in appearance. Sometimes they are small and barely visible and at times they can be the size of marbles.
How did I get them?
Warts are spread by direct contact with an infected individual. However, warts may take many months to become clinically apparent after an individual has acquired the virus. Normal, intact skin is relatively resistant to the virus. However, when the natural barrier is disturbed, such as with scratching, the virus can gain access to the skin cells and cause the growths to develop. Infection of mucous membranes seems to be more readily acquired.
How can I get rid of them?
In most cases, warts resolve spontaneously. Studies show that 90% of warts in children have resolved in 2 years. Adult warts tend to be more persistent, but are generally gone in 7 years. There is no scarring when warts go away on their own. On the other hand, many people are bothered by warts and unwilling to wait for spontaneous resolution. There are many possible treatments, but complete cure probably depends on the individuals own immune system recognizing the wart virus and destroying it. A variety of over-the-counter wart treatments are available. If these are not successful, consult your dermatologist.