Warts: can they be prevented?

Written by: Professor Andrew Wright
Published: | Updated: 05/09/2023
Edited by: Laura Burgess

Warts can grow anywhere on the body and are likely to occur on those who have a weakened immune system. Over time, most warts can disappear by themselves, however, there are treatment options for those who have large warts or if they have grown in any sensitive or embarrassing areas on the body and face. One of our top dermatologists Professor Andrew Wright explains whether warts can be prevented and how they might be treated.


What causes warts?

Warts are caused by a viral infection. The virus gets into an area of the skin altering the skin cells to enable them to produce more wart virus particles. The site of the wart is typically where the infection was caught, so hands from touching other people or infected objects are a common site, as are the feet where strangely warts are often commonly termed verrucas.

Warts are also relatively common on the face, particularly in children, the infection usually being transferred from the hands to the face by touching. Once present warts are usually raised, having a roughened and sometimes frond-like surface. Some warts are smooth and flatter surfaced, these are often referred to as plane warts.

How do warts disappear?

The spontaneous disappearance of a wart is usually as a result of becoming immune to the wart virus. This immunity can be slow to develop, probably because the site of the infection in the outer layer of the skin, but once immunity develops warts will slowly disappear. There is no easy way to stimulate the development of this immunity but various applied treatments can help to produce this.

Can warts be medically treated?

Treating warts is difficult, wart paints are designed to kill off the wart or verruca layer by layer and need to be applied regularly following the manufacturer’s instructions. Freezing with liquid nitrogen has been scientifically shown to be effective but can be very time consuming and needs to be done regularly. Isolated warts can be treated surgically with either excision or cautery but the lesions can often recur and such treatment isn’t suitable for multiple warts.

Can warts be prevented?

It is difficult to avoid catching warts. There are certain environments where an infection is much more likely such as swimming pools and changing rooms. Wearing flip-flops in changing areas and plastic shoes or socks in and around swimming pools can help to reduce infection. Within a household, anybody with verrucas should not walk barefoot and should have their own bathmat and anyone with warts should not share a towel.

How are warts treated?

Most doctors would advise monitoring warts and treating them with simple treatments such as wart paint. The relatively poor response to other treatments such as freezing means that many healthcare services will not fund such treatment except in exceptional circumstances.

Treatment may be considered appropriate for certain verrucas, especially if painful, in people whose jobs involve standing for long periods, or where a lesion is in a cosmetically embarrassing site, such as the face, but even in these circumstances treatment is not easy and response may be slow. Freezing treatment can be quite painful and is unlikely to be tolerated in children under the age of 6-7 years. Wart paints are generally not suitable for the face.

Who is most likely at risk of warts?

One group of people who are at risk from warts are those who are immunosuppressed, particularly those with solid organ transplants. In this group of people there can be multiple, large and resistant warts, and on very rare occasions this can transform into a form of skin cancer. Every effort is therefore made to treat warts in this group of patients.

For any of your dermatological needs, you can book an appointment with Professor Wright via his Top Doctor’s profile here.

By Professor Andrew Wright

Professor Andrew Leslie Wright is a consultant dermatologist in Bradford and Leeds who specialises in eczema, psoriasis, skin cancer and skin allergies.

Having decided on specialising in dermatology, Professor Wright gained as much medical experience as possible by working in an infectious diseases unit, in chest medicine, cardiology and endocrinology. He spent six months working on a coronary care unit and six months in a casualty department where he gained experience with a wide variety of practical procedures.

Professor Wright spent six months in the Rupert Hallam Department of Dermatology, Sheffield as part of a medical rotation. He then spent 20 months in the University Department of Dermatology, Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh.

Professor Wright is committed to teaching undergraduate medical students both in the outpatient clinic and on formal lecture courses. He supervises students doing special study modules and examines Leeds University medical students. He is an honorary visiting professor at Bradford University and a member of the Centre for Skin Sciences at Bradford University.

He has appeared on television, both live and recorded, on numerous occasions and has performed many radio interviews, particularly with regards to sun awareness and skin cancer. He has most recently contributed to two episodes of the Channel 4 programme Embarrassing Bodies.

Professor Wright is a member of several professional societies, including the British Association of Dermatologists, European Contact Dermatitis Society, British Society for Investigative Dermatology and British Hair and Nail Society.

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