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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Warts & verrucas

Ngā unahiaua me ngā tona

Warts are very common and appear as small, rough lumps or growths on your skin. They are usually harmless. In most cases they eventually go away on their own.

Warts are caused by strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV). The strains that cause warts on your hands, legs or feet are different to those that cause genital warts and cervical cancer.

Warts form when the HPV virus infects the top layer of your skin and causes your skin cells to grow very fast. Warts can differ in size from a few millimetres to over 1 cm in diameter.

Common treatments for warts include using duct tape, applying a paint or gel or freezing with liquid nitrogen or a cold spray.

There are different types of warts, which look different and appear on different parts of the body.

Preventing warts & verrucas

Warts are not very contagious, but they can be spread by close contact with someone. The virus can also be passed on to someone else by touching contaminated objects or surfaces. These include the area surrounding a swimming pool or shower, towels, razors or other personal items.

Warts are common in school‑aged children, but they can occur at any age.

You are at greater risk of getting warts if you:

Treating warts & verrucas

Warts are usually harmless. Most go away on their own within months or years. But if they spread, cause pain or if you do not like the way they look, you may want to treat them.

Treatment can often clear warts more quickly, but it can be time-consuming, and uncomfortable or painful. The most used treatments are duct tape, wart paints or gels (also called topical treatment) and freezing with liquid nitrogen or a cold spray.

Duct tape

Covering a wart with duct tape is a painless way of treating warts. You cover the wart with a circular piece of tape and leave it for 6 days. You then remove the tape and gently scrape off the dead skin. Then you leave it uncovered overnight. You repeat this cycle for 2 months or until the wart goes away, whichever comes first.

Wart paints or gels

Wart paints or gels are topical treatments. They contain salicylic acid, podophyllin or similar compounds. They work by removing the dead surface skin cells and make the wart smaller and less uncomfortable.

You should usually apply them on the wart once daily. About 70% of warts improve within 12 weeks of daily treatment.

It is very important that you follow the instructions on the packaging. Applying these treatments to normal skin that is not affected can burn the skin.

Freezing treatment

Freezing treatment is when liquid nitrogen is sprayed or applied to the wart. Liquid nitrogen is very cold, and the freezing and thawing destroys the wart.

It is quite uncomfortable and may cause your skin to blister for a few days or weeks. A hard freeze using liquid nitrogen might cause a permanent white mark or scar. It can also cause temporary numbness.

Freezing treatment is normally repeated every one to three weeks. It is very effective, with 70% improving after 3 to 4 of regular freezing.

Other treatments

If freezing or topical treatments do not clear your warts, there are other options. These can include having the wart removed surgically or having the wart burned off. Usually, these treatments are only done by podiatrists and dermatologists if other options have failed.

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Content shared between HealthInfo Canterbury, KidsHealth and Health Navigator NZ as part of a National Health Content Hub collaborative. Last reviewed April 2023.

Sources

See also:

Genital warts

Page reference: 53586

Review key: HICCA-28239