Body wart treatments

Dear Alice,

I have small warts (one to two mm) scattered all over my face, neck, chest and back. There are also some of them on other areas of my body. I scan through your answers and can't find a relevant one. I have seen only genital warts and plantar warts which are not my problem.

I know from medical literature that this is a kind of tumor virus and contagious as well. To your knowledge, what is the best treatment method other than using chemical or laser on each of them?

Dear Reader,

You are correct that warts are caused by a virus, but they're not tumors and they're not cancerous. Warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). There are at least 60 different forms of HPV that cause warts in various parts of the body. Warts are small bumps that are usually the color of your skin, though they can be slightly lighter or slightly darker. Some warts can have tiny dark dots, which are clotted blood vessels. Warts can come alone or appear in groups.

Though warts may be unsightly, they are generally harmless, though they can spread to other parts of the body. There are many home remedies, those might not be appropriate for people with diabetes, a compromised immune system, or a circulatory disorder — they are advised to see a health care provider instead of trying to cure at home. It's also recommended that you see a health care provider if your warts are painful, rapidly multiplying (which it sounds like yours are), interfering with any of your daily activities, are unresponsive to home treatments, or if any of them change in appearance or color.

There are four primary types of warts (i.e., different forms of the virus have preferences for cells in specific locations of the body), which include:

  • Common warts (the kind that grow on hands or fingers)
  • Plantar warts (these grow on the feet)
  • Flat warts (grow on hands and legs)
  • Genital (pretty self-explanatory)

There are more wart treatments than there are types of warts: a recent review highlighted 19 different methods! Some are quite tolerable. For example application of salicylic acid in many forms (frequently available without prescription) is usually helpful, but the slowness of the method (weeks to months) can be frustrating for some.

Other methods can be a bit uncomfortable, but acceptable for most, and include freezing with liquid nitrogen or applying an acid such as trichloroacetic acid or a blistering agent such as cantharidin. You need to see a health care provider for these. Often several visits are necessary. Injection with certain cancer chemotherapy substances or interferon, a "natural" immune system substance are also possible, but expensive. One of the most trusted home remedies is duct tape. Place duct tape over the wart for six days, then remove it and soak the wart in water, then rub with an emery board. Repeat until the wart goes away.

These methods are generally for common, plantar, and flat warts. For warts on the genitals, see your health care provider (that is to say that duct tape is not ideal for this type!) Genital warts are also caused by HPV, the most common type of sexually transmitted infection (STI). HPV can also cause cervical cancer; however the type of HPV that causes genital warts is not the same type that causes cervical cancer.

Many people simply wait for warts to go away on their own. If a wart is not bothersome to you, it might be okay to wait it out — but know that they can be contagious. To avoid spreading warts to other parts of your body (or other people), take the following precautions:

  • Wash your hands with soap after touching warts.
  • Avoid sharing certain personal items such as towels and nail clippers with others if you have a wart.
  • Avoid biting your nails if you have warts near your nails.
  • Don't pick at your warts.

Everyone's immune system responds differently to warts. A person could be exposed to the virus and not develop warts. Since you have so many warts at one time, it may be worth visiting a health care provider. They could help determine the best treatment option as well as confirm that all these bumps that have appeared on your torso, face, and neck are, in fact, warts.

Take care,

Last updated Mar 25, 2015
Originally published Feb 23, 1996

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