Warts: Types, Causes, Treatment, and More

Medically Reviewed By Amanda Caldwell, MSN, APRN-C
Was this helpful?
31

Warts, a growth that commonly appears on the skin, occur due to the human papillomavirus (HPV). Though contagious, they typically aren’t dangerous. Warts are also known as “verrucas.” They are common, and many types can be relatively harmless. However, some people experience uncomfortable symptoms and other health conditions.

The symptoms, treatment options, and risks can vary depending on the type of wart.

This article includes pictures and covers the causes, symptoms, and appearance of warts. It also explains the treatment, prevention, and complications of warts and addresses some frequently asked questions.

What are the types of warts?

Two people sit on the side of a pool, dipping their legs in the water.
Hakan & Sophie/Stocksy United

There are many types of warts. These include:

  • Common warts: Common warts usually grow on the hands or knees but can develop anywhere on the body.
  • Flat warts: As per their name, flat warts look like flat lumps on the skin. They typically develop on the face, hands, and lower legs but can occur anywhere.
  • Filiform warts: Most often found around the mouth and eyes, filiform warts look like small spikes or threads.
  • Plantar warts or foot warts: Plantar warts are found most often on the sole, the plantar surface.
  • Mosaic warts: This plantar wart appears in tight clusters. Mosaic warts are usually found on the feet or hands.
  • Genital warts: These warts can spread through sexual contact. In some cases, they may increase the risk of cervical cancer for people assigned female at birth.

What are the symptoms of warts?

General symptoms of warts can include:

  • a raised bump on the skin
  • itching
  • tightness
  • feeling of pressure

Some warts may have visible black or brown dots inside, which are actually small blood vessels. Some people call these seed warts because they look like they contain little seeds.

Learn more about seed warts.

Warts may have additional symptoms, depending on the kind of wart. Sometimes, symptoms can help identify the type of wart.

How to identify warts

Below are some of the typical symptoms of each wart type.

Wart typeTypical symptoms and appearance
common warts

Common warts may appear dome-shaped and have a rough surface, feeling hard to the touch.

They may also have black or brown dots or have a seed wart appearance.

plantar warts

Plantar warts can cause hard or thick skin to cover the rough wart.

You may experience pain or pressure while walking or standing.

flat warts

Flat warts may be light brown or the same color as your skin tone.

They may be only a few millimeters wide and slightly raised from the skin’s surface.

filiform wartsFiliform warts may have a shape that resembles spikes or a long thread. Some filiform warts may appear to have fronds or brush ends.
mosaic warts

Mosaic warts can present as many closely clustered warts.

They may appear pale or white and individually are around the size of a pinhead.

Sometimes, they can resemble plantar warts or cause plaques of tender skin.

genital warts

Genital warts can look like flat, smooth growths to rough growths that may cluster together to have a cauliflower-like appearance. They also may feel hard to the touch.

They may be itchy and can bleed with sexual activity.

What do warts look like?

What warts look like can vary depending on the type of wart.

Below are some examples of how warts may appear.

Medical image of a common wart.

Common warts may have a round or domed-shaped appearance.

WIN-Initiative/Neleman/Getty Images

Medical image of a common wart.

Common warts may feel rough and have visible black dots.

muroPhotographer/Shutterstock

Medical image of a plantar wart.

Plantar warts may cause rough, hard, or thick skin over a round bump.

Image credit: Marionette, 2009.

Medical image of a flat wart.

Flat warts may have a smooth or flat appearance. They are often slightly darker than the original skin color.

Image credit: Iffat Hassan, Taseer Bhat, Hinah Altaf, Farah Sameem, Qazi Masood, 2013.

Medical image of a filiform wart.

Filiform warts can cause growths that have fronds or branch-like shapes.

Image credit: Schweintechnik, 2008.

Medical image of mosaic warts.

Mosaic warts appear in tight clusters of many warts.

Dermatology11/Shutterstock

Medical image of genital warts.

Genital warts may look like flat, smooth growths. Multiple warts may appear in the genital area.

CDC/ Dr. M.F. Rein

Medical image of genital warts.

Sometimes, genital warts may grow in clusters that have a "cauliflower-like" appearance.

SOA-AIDS Amsterdam, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

What causes warts?

Warts are the result of an HPV infection.

There are more than 100 different types of HPV that can cause different types of warts.

HPV infection can be transmitted by skin contact with warts or indirectly by touching an object or surface with HPV. It can also spread if people share personal items, such as towels or razors.

Sometimes, warts that do not respond to treatment are a symptom of a weakened immune system. Contact your doctor if you notice an increase in warts or symptoms that do not respond to treatment.

Read more about immune deficiency conditions and their symptoms.

What are the risk factors for warts?

A few factors may increase the risk of developing warts, such as:

  • biting your nails
  • injuries to the skin
  • frequently getting the skin wet, particularly on the hands
  • going barefoot in shared showers or swimming pools
  • sharing personal items
  • having contact with other people’s warts
  • scratching or shaving warts on your own body, causing the infection to spread
  • being exposed to meat products
  • for genital warts, having sex without using barrier protection such as condoms
  • having a weakened immune system

Warts are also particularly common during childhood.

How do you prevent warts?

Steps to help reduce the risk of developing warts include:

  • keeping injuries or broken skin clean and covered while healing
  • maintaining proper hygiene, including washing hands frequently
  • avoiding picking at warts if they do form
  • using a condom or other barrier protection such as dental dams during sexual activity
  • wearing sandals or other foot coverings in shared showers, pools, and locker rooms

What are the treatments for warts?

According to a 2022 review, around two-thirds of wart cases resolve on their own over several years.

However, some people may seek treatment to remove warts more quickly.

Treatments for warts can depend on the type of wart. Approaches include over-the-counter (OTC) products and prescription medication. Some treatments may also involve outpatient procedures.

Treatments may include:

  • salicylic acid
  • other topical products containing ingredients such as:
    • retinoids
    • tretinoin
    • cimetidine
  • cryotherapy or wart freezing
  • surgical removal
  • laser removal
  • immunotherapy injections

Some treatments, such as OTC products or cryotherapy, may need repeat sessions to completely clear the wart.

Ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice on products that may be safe and effective for you before self-treating warts. Some products, such as salicylic acid, can be unsafe if you have other underlying conditions, such as diabetes or circulatory conditions.

Genital wart treatment

Do not treat genital warts with OTC products. A doctor should evaluate genital warts because other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) may be present and require medical care. Your doctor may also recommend a comprehensive panel of STI testing.

Following consultation with a doctor, genital wart treatment can include:

  • topical medications and creams that contain active ingredients such as:
    • imiquimod
    • podophyllotoxin
    • trichloroacetic acid
    • sinecatechins
    • isotretinoin
  • surgical removal
  • cryotherapy
  • laser removal

Some treatments for genital warts are unsafe during pregnancy and may cause birth irregularities in the fetus. These treatments include isotretinoin and podophyllotoxin.

Home remedies for warts

In addition to OTC products for warts, other at-home care methods might be useful.

One popular wart removal method is to cover the wart with duct tape and replace the tape regularly.

However, because warts can improve on their own, it is unclear how effective this method is. Also, cryotherapy may be less likely to irritate than duct tape and salicylic acid, according to the National Health Service.

Do not use methods that break the skin, such as filing the wart down. This can cause injury and spread the HPV infection.

If your symptoms worsen after trying home remedies, contact your doctor.

What are the potential complications of warts?

Most people do not develop complications, but some may experience scarring. However, this is less common when warts go away on their own. Others may experience pain.

Treatment for warts can also present health risks, such as:

  • moderate to severe scarring
  • failure to remove the wart
  • infection
  • spread of HPV
  • pain
  • cosmetic changes
  • birth irregularities when treating genital warts

Rarely, warts may become cancerous.

Genital warts may also cause an increased risk of cancers, such as cancer of the:

  • cervix
  • vulva
  • anus
  • penis
  • throat
  • mouth

Contact a doctor if you have warts and are concerned about your health or risk of complications. They can advise on treatments for your circumstances.

Other frequently asked questions

Amanda Caldwell, MSN, APRN-C, has reviewed the following frequently asked questions.

Are common warts an STD?

Common warts are not a sexually transmitted disease, also known as a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

However, common warts may spread through skin contact, including if you directly touch a common wart during sexual activity.

What kills warts quickly?

Effective treatments to kill warts can include:

  • cryotherapy
  • salicylic acid
  • other topical products such as tretinoin or retinoids

In some cases, you may need several treatments to remove a wart.

Can warts be cancerous?

In rare cases, warts can become cancerous. This cancer may be known as verrucous carcinoma.

However, most warts heal without becoming cancerous.

Genital warts may also increase the risk of cancer of the genitals, mouth, or throat.

What can be mistaken for a wart?

Conditions that may be mistaken for warts include:

Contact your doctor if you notice any new skin symptoms or symptoms that do not respond to wart treatments.

How long can a wart last?

Warts can last several years. However, treatment may remove warts more quickly.

Summary

Warts are common growths that develop due to HPV infection. While they can be uncomfortable or change your appearance, they are typically harmless. However, the symptoms, treatment, and risks of warts can vary depending on the type. For example, genital warts can present a further risk.

Talk with a doctor before self-treating warts. Following diagnosis, remedies for warts can include topical treatments or surgical options.

Contact your doctor about any concerns or if your symptoms do not improve.

Was this helpful?
31
Medical Reviewer: Amanda Caldwell, MSN, APRN-C
Last Review Date: 2022 Nov 30
View All Skin, Hair and Nails Articles
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Al Aboud, A. M., et al. (2022). Wart. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK431047/
  2. Dinulos, J. G. H. (2022). Warts. https://www.merckmanuals.com/en-ca/professional/dermatologic-disorders/viral-skin-diseases/warts
  3. Leslie, S. W., et al. (2022). Genital warts. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441884/
  4. Warts and verrucas. (2022). https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/skin-hair-and-nails/warts-and-verrucas
  5. Warts. (2020). https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/warts
  6. Warts. (n.d.). https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/a-z/warts-overview
  7. Warts: Overview. (2019). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279586/
  8. Zampella, J., et al. (2022). Consideration of underlying immunodeficiency in refractory or recalcitrant warts: A review of the literature. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ski2.98