Warts are the manifestation and growth of a contagious virus (HPV, the Human Papillomavirus) that invades the skin through small cuts or abrasions on its surface. Once inside the skin, the virus can grow and spread, stimulating the rapid generation of cells on the surface of your skin. There are over 60 different strains of HPV. Technically, warts may appear anywhere on the skin, but only those that appear on the soles of the feet are known as plantar warts.
What to look for:
If you see a bump on the sole of your foot that changes over time, suspect plantar warts. Some warts may develop an uneven surface and a cauliflower-like texture over time, or they may acquire black spots or streaky lines. The black dots or lines are characteristic of plantar warts, and are caused by the bleeding of small blood vessels into the tissue. Warts also can bleed profusely when accidentally scratched or cut. Unlike on other body parts where the warts grow out and look like lumps, on the sole of the feet they grow in due to the pressure of walking.
Warts begin as small bumps, but can grow large if left untreated. They can spread to other areas on the foot, or form clusters.
A wart may or may not be painful, depending on its location. Warts on the ball of the foot or the heel, for example, where weight and pressure are brought to bear, may cause the patient great pain.
Only people can pass warts to other people – either from direct skin-to-skin contact or from inadvertently leaving the virus somewhere where others can pick it up. For example, the virus can be spread when one person with plantar warts walks barefoot on ground where others do the same. The virus can also be spread if a patient with plantar warts loans shoes or socks, which have not been washed, to an uninfected person.
Warts can easily be spread to areas around the body other than the feet, such as when the patient touches the plantar wart, and then touches another area of his or her body, such as the hands, face, genitals, scalp, arms, legs, ears. If the wart bleeds (such as when it is nicked or cut accidentally), this creates an ideal avenue for infection of another part of the body, or another person.
Warts are also stubborn and frustrating. They may disappear for a while, and then recur in the same place. They may go away with treatment and then come back – or they may never recur. Children seem to be more prone to warts than adults, leading some medical experts to theorize that as they age, some people can develop immunities to the virus that causes warts.
What it means to you:
Plantar warts (and all warts) are often unsightly and sometimes painful, but not life-threatening. That said, however, it is important to note that there are various lesions of the skin on the foot, including corns, calluses, moles – and even a few rare cancerous growths – that have similar or identical characteristics. It’s best to have a podiatrist examine any growth on your foot to ascertain that it is indeed a wart. Many common warts can be addressed with over-the-counter medications; however, it depends on the specific type of wart, and how far it has progressed. So its best to discuss what treatment is best for you with the podiatrist.
What causes it?
You acquire the wart virus through direct contact with an infected person, or by coming into contact with an infected surface, such as a shower room floor. The virus lives in a warm, moist environment. It’s generally difficult to tell when or where you came into contact with the organism, however, since the incubation period for the HPV can be up to three months, although a wart itself can lie dormant for years.
Plantar warts are stubborn, and most of the time, will require a podiatrist intervention before they’ll go away.
There are various preparations on the market which can be used to treat warts. However, it is essential to receive confirmation from your podiatrist before the lesion you want to treat is, in fact, a wart, and not something else. By self-diagnosing and treating without medical supervision, you may actually do yourself more harm than good. Plus, since some of the remedies on the market contain acid, they can irritate, damage and scar normal skin, or worsen a condition that is not a wart.
A podiatrist, upon diagnosing a plantar wart, may recommend an over the counter treatment. If, however, the condition looks fairly entrenched – and plantar warts are known to be very stubborn – several other methods may be used to treat it.
- Because a wart is a virus, the goal of the professional is to remove the affected area that contains the warty skin cells, while keeping damage to the surrounding tissue to a minimum. In this case, the podiatrist may choose one of several methods: Freezing the wart (also known as cryotherapy), however, experience in treating plantar warts has shown this method not to be as effective due to the difficulty of accessing the wart thats deep in the skin.
- Debridement (shaving) of the wart followed by the application of a medicated ointment to destroy the lesion. This usually needs to be repeated several times on a regular bases until the wart is completely gone.
- Curretage. This involves the removal of the wart in a scooping manner under a local anaesthetic. Although it requires longer healing time, it is intended to be a single treatment with complete removal.
- Remedies for warts are constantly evolving. Your podiatrist can discuss up-to-date treatments that are most suitable for you.
The best way to prevent a plantar wart is to keep your feet clean, and to keep them away from surfaces on which the HPV might be lurking. Avoid walking barefoot, and wear sandals or some kind of foot covering at pools and in locker rooms and other warm, moist communal areas where people go barefoot. Change your shoes and socks daily, and allow your shoes to dry thoroughly between each wearing. Do not wear the shoes or socks of others, not even those of your closest friends. Wash socks after each wearing. (In this case, it’s the same kind of preventive medicine that is advised for athlete’s foot – another infection that can be picked up in public areas)
Keep your feet clean and dry, and since children are prone to warts, encourage them to do the same, and to follow the above rules as well. Check kids’ feet periodically and report any suspicious bumps, growths or lesions to your podiatrist. Remember that kids are easily frightened by medical procedures, and the earlier a wart is diagnosed, the easier it will be to get rid of it.
If a wart is diagnosed, do not pick, pull or try to snip at it, and don’t try to rub it with a pumice stone or with any kind of lotion. Don’t ignore it, either! Put a band-aid over the area to discourage contact with it and see the podiatrist. If it’s a wart, you’ll have caught it early. If it’s not a wart – well, you’ll still have caught it early, no matter what it turns out to be. Wash your hands carefully after caring for the affected area, and do not touch yourself anywhere before you wash those hands!
Remember that HPV is a highly contagious virus, and that it will spread if not treated. Don’t give it a fighting chance. If you or your children notice a wart – on your feet or on any part of your body – reduce the risk of it spreading while it’s being treated. Avoid brushing, clipping, shaving or combing the area over and around the wart in order to avoid nicking or cutting the wart and causing it to bleed. Don’t use the same nail clipper or file on hands or feet that have warts as you do on hands or feet that don’t.