Plantar Warts 101 – Everything You Need to Know

September 24, 2019

Foot with plantar warts

Plantar warts, which affect the bottoms of the feet, are one of the many common wart varieties. Where most warts are painless growths on the skin, plantar warts can be quite painful, and the bulk of their growth occurs beneath the skin’s surface. If you’ve ever experienced plantar warts, you know how uncomfortable this condition can be and how challenging it can be to fully rid your body of these warts. At North Valley Dermatology, a U.S. Dermatology Partners office in Peoria, Arizona, Dr. Rachel Cetta works with patients to treat plantar warts quickly and comfortably. In this blog, Dr. Cetta walks through some of the basic information about plantar warts and how to remove them.

What are Plantar Warts?

Plantar warts are very common. These small warts grow on the heels and other parts of the feet that bear the body’s weight. They may have dark centers where the wart grows inward beneath a thick, callused layer of skin.

What Causes Plantar Warts?

Plantar warts grow as a result of human papillomavirus (HPV), which can enter the body through cuts, blisters, and other openings in the flesh on the feet. The virus accumulates in the outer layers of skin attacking skin cells and creating a rough, callused area. Because plantar warts are caused by a viral infection, they can be spread from person to person. This is a common occurrence for those who regularly use public showers, visit public pools, and those who have weakened immune systems. There are numerous different strains of HPV, and while other forms have been linked to cervical cancer and other serious health risks, there is no evidence that the HPV strains that cause plantar warts are dangerous to overall health. While anyone can develop a plantar wart, the following people are at greater risk:

  • Children and teens account for the majority of plantar wart cases.
  • Those who have weakened immune systems may be especially susceptible to HPV, which causes plantar warts to develop.
  • If you regularly go barefoot, shower in public locker rooms, or otherwise expose your bare feet, you are at increased risk for plantar warts.
  • Those who have already had plantar warts may develop more after they heal.
  • If you are exposed to the virus by someone else who has plantar warts, you may develop this condition.

What Symptoms are Common?

Most warts look like small lumps that stick off of the skin. Plantar warts differ in that their growth typically occurs inward beneath a thick callus on the skin’s surface. Some common characteristics of plantar warts include:

  • One or a cluster of small, flesh-colored calluses on the bottom of the foot, especially in weight-bearing areas of the foot.
  • A hard callus of skin over a darker-colored area where the wart is growing inward.
  • Black spots, sometimes called wart seeds, that are actually the result of clotted blood vessels beneath the skin.
  • Pain when walking or standing.

How are Plantar Warts Treated?

Plantar warts, like other common warts, will often clear up on their own.  However, they can be quite painful and many patients choose to remove them with at-home remedies or work with a dermatologist to remove them more quickly. One risk of non-treatment is the wart virus may have an opportunity to spread causing more lesions.

Common At-Home Plantar Wart Remedies

According to Dr. Cetta, “Many people who struggle with chronic plantar warts swear by the duct tape removal method. While not necessarily backed by scientific research, the harmless and noninvasive treatment has significant anecdotal support.” The process is simple. After soaking your feet, use a pumice to remove the dead tissue. Then, dry the foot thoroughly and place a piece of duct tape over the wart. The process is then repeated every day or every other day until the wart is removed.

In addition to this common remedy, you can also purchase topical, over the counter peeling and freezing solutions. Both of these options require patients to place the acidic medication or source of cold directly onto the wart every day for several weeks or even months until the wart is healed.

Common In-Office Plantar Wart Treatments

At-home therapy options are often effective, but they can take a long time. If your plantar wart is causing significant discomfort, you may not want to wait weeks or months to complete home remedies. In-office treatments include:

  • Cryotherapy– liquid nitrogen is applied directly to the lesion using a spray can or Q-tip causing local destruction of the wart.
  • Acid – a stronger trichloroacetic acid is applied every week in the dermatology office in combination with the at-home application of salicylic acid. This typically expedites the treatment process.
  • Immune therapy – may be recommended if you have chronic or persistent plantar warts. This treatment uses oral medications, injected antigens, and/or topical immune boosters to help your body fight the virus that causes plantar warts more effectively.
  • Laser therapy – lasers can be used to treat the tissue that makes up the wart, which will then fall off.
  • Surgical removal – typically used as a last recourse, your plantar wart may be surgically removed if other, less invasive options have been unsuccessful.

Can I Prevent Plantar Warts?

You may not be able to totally prevent the development of plantar warts, but you can take the following steps to reduce your risk:

  • Avoid touching, picking, or scratching at warts.
  • Don’t touch warts on other people.
  • Wash hands thoroughly after treating warts.
  • Keep feet clean.
  • Change socks daily and sanitize the insides of shoes regularly.
  • Do not walk barefoot in public showers, at pools, or in locker rooms.
  • Don’t use the pumice or other abrasive devices used in at-home plantar wart removal on other parts of the body.
  • The HPV vaccine has shown some success in preventing plantar warts even though the vaccine does not specifically target the strains of HPV that are commonly associated with the development of plantar warts.

When Should I Visit U.S. Dermatology Partners for Plantar Wart Treatment?

You should visit U.S. Dermatology Partners for plantar wart treatment in the following situations:

  • If you’re not sure that a lesion is a plantar wart.
  • Attempts to heal the wart at home are unsuccessful.
  • Pain increases or makes it difficult for you to walk or stand.
  • The wart is bleeding, changing in appearance, or showing signs of infection.
  • Those with diabetes, poor circulation, and immune system disorders (like HIV) should seek professional treatment for plantar warts right away.

If you need help treating your plantar warts or want to discuss any other dermatologic condition or service, it’s easy to schedule an appointment with U.S. Dermatology Partners. Simply complete our online request form. Then, one of our local dermatology practices will be in touch to help you schedule your visit.

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