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A wart is a harmless skin growth caused by a virus. The virus makes the top layer of skin grow quickly, causing a wart. Warts usually go away on their own in months or years. There are several types of warts. Common warts appear most often on the hands, but they may be anywhere on the body.

Warts spread easily. You can reinfect yourself by touching the wart and then touching another part of your body. You can infect others by sharing towels, razors, or other personal items.

Most warts don't need treatment. But if warts cause pain or spread, your doctor may recommend that you use an over-the-counter treatment. Or your doctor may prescribe a stronger medicine to put on warts or may inject them with medicine. The doctor also can remove warts through surgery or by freezing them.

What causes warts?

A wart is caused by some types of the virus called the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV infects the top layer of skin. It usually enters the body in an area of broken skin. The virus causes the top layer of skin to grow very fast, forming a wart.

Preventing warts

The main way to prevent warts is to avoid contact with the human papillomavirus (HPV) that causes warts. If you are exposed to this virus, you may or may not get warts, depending on how susceptible you are to the virus. Here are some tips to help avoid HPV.

  • Avoid touching warts on yourself or others.
  • Don't share razors, towels, socks, or shoes with another person.

    Someone with no visible warts can still be carrying the virus.

  • Avoid walking barefoot on warm, moist surfaces where the wart virus may be alive.

    Wear shower shoes when using public showers, locker rooms, or pool areas.

  • Keep your feet dry.

    If your feet sweat heavily, wear socks that absorb moisture or wick it away from the skin.

  • Avoid irritating the soles of your feet.

Warts grow more easily if your skin has been injured or broken in some way.

You can help prevent warts from spreading. Keep your warts covered with a bandage or athletic tape. Don't bite your nails or cuticles, as this may spread warts from one finger to another.

How are warts diagnosed?

A doctor usually can tell if a skin growth is a wart by looking at it. Your doctor may take a sample of the wart if it isn't clear that the growth is a wart or if the growth is darker than the skin around it, is irregular, bleeds, or is large and fast-growing.

How are warts treated?

Most warts don't need treatment. They generally go away on their own within months or years. But if you have warts that are painful or are spreading, or if you're bothered by the way they look, your treatment choices include:

  • Using a home treatment such as salicylic acid or duct tape. You can get these without a prescription.
  • Putting a stronger medicine on the wart, or getting a shot of medicine in it.
  • Freezing the wart (cryotherapy). There is an over-the-counter medicine you can use at home. Or you can have your doctor freeze it for you.
  • Removing the wart with surgery (electrosurgery, curettage, laser surgery).

Surgery is more likely to leave scars. That's why it's mostly used to treat warts that are hard to remove or that keep coming back.

Wart treatment doesn't always work. Even after a wart shrinks or goes away, warts may come back or spread to other parts of the body. This is because most treatments destroy the wart but don't kill the virus that causes the wart.

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