What's The Deal With Skin Warts?

A quick guide to the cauliflower looking growth on your skin.

What's The Deal With Skin Warts?
Judy Hsu, DO
May 7, 2022, 11:34:27 PM

So you found a fleshy bump on your finger. A quick search on the internet tells you that this is likely a wart. What is a wart and how do you get rid of it?

First of all, whenever you find a skin lesion that does not resolve with time, you should always go see your doctor to get it evaluated.

Ok, now that we got that out of the way. Let’s talk about warts in more detail. The official medical term for the common warts is “verruca vulgaris”. They are benign tumors of the skin caused by human papillomaviruses (HPVs) and can be found on any skin surface. The viruses infect only the cells in the top layer of the skin, so despite how deep the warts can feel, they do not penetrate into the fat or muscles. It is worth noting that HPVs can also cause malignant tumors to form; it all depends on the types of HPV that are involved (more than 100 types exist).

Warts can appear at any age and they are easily transmitted by touch; this is why it is not uncommon to see new warts forming on adjacent fingers or toes. They are typically raised and can have finger-like projections, and on close up you can see a mosaic pattern and black dots which are helpful for diagnosis. (Fun fact: the black dots are little clotted blood vessels as a result of the infection). Warts can resolve spontaneously on their own, but how long it takes will depend on the individual. Sometimes they disappear within weeks to months, and other times they can last for years or a lifetime. In general, warts tend to develop more easily in people with weakened immune systems, so this is why it is common to find new growths during periods of stress or acute illnesses.

Warts can be stubborn to get rid of. Cure often requires several treatment sessions. Goal is to get rid of infected cells in the top skin layer, and this can be achieved via cutting with a surgical blade or chemical destruction (i.e. salicylic acid). Cryotherapy with liquid nitrogen is considered first-line therapy. This is a quick and relatively painless way to treat the warts, and it may be repeated every 2-4 weeks until they resolve.

On the feet, warts can often be confused with corns. This is because they both frequently occur at points of maximum pressure such as the balls of the feet. One good way to differentiate between the two is to apply lateral pressure to the lesion; this maneuver would be painful for warts but painless for corns. Either way, it would be beneficial to get them treated if they tend to distort the way people walk in order to avoid pain from pressure on them, and overtime this would cause abnormal posture and pain in other parts of the leg or back.