How are warts treated?

Warts may go away on their own after a certain amount of time as the immune system fights off the virus that causes them. However, since warts can be embarrassing, and can become irritated or painful (especially when located on the foot), you may want to have them treated.

In order to warts and reduce the chances of it coming back, it must be removed completely. This requires daily home treatment, either alone or in combination with treatments by a doctor.

Home wart treatment

  • Over-the-counter treatments: Salicylic acid is an over-the-counter product used to treat warts. It comes in a gel or liquid, or as a patch. Formulations with a higher percentage of salicylic acid are more effective. These treatments work better if the thick skin of the wart is pared down before application.

To treat a wart, soak the affected area in warm water for 15 to 20 minutes to soften the skin. After soaking, use a disposable emery board to file down the wart, break off the used section, and throw it away. After filing, apply the wart treatment and cover with duct tape. Repeat this treatment every night until the wart is gone. Salicylic acid treatment does not cause pain.

  • Duration of treatment: To treat a wart successfully, you have to apply the topical (on the skin) medicines every day, often for months.

It is important that you not try to physically remove (cut out) the wart yourself. Doing so can lead to infection or injury to the area.

Medical treatment

There are several approaches the doctor may choose from to treat a wart. Treatment is done on an outpatient basis, meaning the patient goes home the day of the treatment.

Medical treatment options include:

  • Cryotherapy: This treatment destroys the wart by freezing it with liquid nitrogen. Cryotherapy causes a blister to form; when the blister peels off, all or part of the wart peels off. This treatment is usually not used in very young children because it can be painful. Cryotherapy may require several sessions in order to be effective, and works better if you follow it with a salicylic acid treatment after the area heals.
  • Topical treatment: Topical medicines work by stripping away layers of the wart. However, when the doctor chooses a topical treatment, he or she will prescribe a more powerful concentration of medication, such as salicylic acid or a combination of medications, for you to apply at home.
  • Other: Other options to treat plantar warts include laser therapy, surgery, and immunotherapy, an approach in which the doctor uses the patient's immune system to destroy a plantar wart that is not responding to other treatments. However, because these treatments are expensive, can be painful and cause scarring and other side effects, they are used less often.

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