Not all warts need to be treated. They generally go away on their own within months or years. This may be because, with time, your immune system is able to destroy the human papillomavirus that causes warts.
You may decide to treat a wart if it is:
- Easily irritated.
- Growing or spreading to other parts of your body or to other people.
The goal of wart treatment is to destroy or remove the wart without creating scar tissue, which can be more painful than the wart itself. How a wart is treated depends on the type of wart, its location, and its symptoms. Also important is your willingness to follow a course of treatment that can last for weeks or months.
Wart treatment isn't always successful. Even after a wart shrinks or disappears, warts may return or spread to other parts of the body. This is because most treatments only destroy the wart and don't kill the virus that causes the wart.
Treating the warts yourself
Many people don't treat warts unless they are unsightly or painful. You can treat warts yourself with:
If your child has a wart, treatment probably isn't needed. That's because warts often go away on their own. But if the wart is on your child's face or genitals or is painful or spreading, your child should see a doctor for treatment. Otherwise, it is usually safe to treat a wart at home with duct tape or salicylic acid. If the wart doesn't start to improve within 2 weeks, see your doctor.
For more information, see Home Treatment.
If you have diabetes or peripheral arterial disease, talk to your doctor before you try home treatment for warts.
Getting treatment from your doctor
Your doctor can treat warts with:
What to think about
Before treating your warts, think about:
- The potential for scarring. Scarring is the most important thing to think about when choosing a wart treatment. Scarring from treatment may be permanent and can be as painful as the wart itself. The bottom of the foot is especially sensitive, a consideration in the case of plantar warts. And scarring changes the way your skin looks. Treatments that are less likely to leave a scar include salicylic acid, cryotherapy, and laser surgery.
- The cost. Home treatment is often as effective as treatment by a doctor. And it costs less. But home treatment may take longer. Less expensive home treatments include tape occlusion (duct tape) and nonprescription salicylic acid.
- Your ability to tolerate pain. Quicker but more painful methods include some topical medicines (such as cantharidin) and cryotherapy.
- Your risk of infection. Treatment can sometimes cause infection. If you have an impaired immune system or a condition such as diabetes or peripheral arterial disease, discuss your increased risk of infection with your doctor. You may need to take special precautions.
- Your history of recurrent warts. If you have a history of warts that come back, you may want to talk with your doctor about more aggressive treatment methods.
- The location and number of warts. Large areas covered by warts may be better treated with salicylic acid than with more painful, potentially scarring methods.
- Your age. Painful treatments, such as cryotherapy, may not be appropriate for young children. If you are older than age 60 and have never had warts, you may want to see a doctor to check any skin growths for skin cancer.
- The time needed for treatment. Topical (putting medicine on the wart) treatment is often slower than surgical treatment. Some treatment methods, such as immunotherapy applied by a health professional, require repeated office visits. In such cases, the expense and inconvenience may outweigh the benefits of treatment.