What are plantar warts?
Plantar warts are caused by direct contact with a certain strain of a virus called the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). Due to increased pressure on the sole of the foot, the forming wart is pushed inward and a hard layer of skin can form over the top. They usually have a cauliflower-like appearance with small black dots or lines in the centre. They can sometimes become painful, particularly over bony prominences and weightbearing areas. They may form on their own, in a cluster (mosaic), or there may be multiple warts spread over the foot. Usually warts are more painful when squeezing the sides of the lesion rather then direct pressure.
How did I get plantar wart/s?
Tiny abrasions or breaks in the outermost layer of the skin allow the virus a portal of entry to the body. Plantar warts can spread from other parts of the body or through direct or indirect contact with infected floor surfaces, shoes, or clothing. The virus lives in a warm, moist environment so common places of infection are shower floors and shared socks or shoes. It is generally difficult to tell when or where you came into contact with the organism as the incubation period for the virus can be up to three months.
When should I treat them?
Plantar warts are usually self-limiting, meaning the immune system usually kicks in to fight the virus. In some rare cases and in immunosuppressed patients, plantar warts can be persistent for years. Treatment is generally recommended to lessen symptoms (which may include pain), decrease duration, and reduce the spread of the infection.
What treatments are available?
- No treatment (monitor);
- Occlusive tape – covering the wart;
- Caustics/keratolytics: e.g. silver nitrate, over-the-counter low % salicylic acid, higher % salicylic acid treatments;
- Cryotherapy (freezing);
- Hyfrecation (burning the wart out under local anaesthetic);
- Multi-puncture (under local anaesthetic);
- Surgical removal – curettage (also under local anaesthetic).
It is essential to consult a healthcare professional for a correct diagnosis of your lesion in the first instance, as many “warts” we see are actually corns. You may actually do more harm than good by self-diagnosing and/or using a treatment that is not right for you.