Do I Have A Wart On My Hand?

Published: January 27, 2016
Dear TeenHealthFX,
I think I have a wart on my hand. How can I tell if it is a wart and what should I do to make it get better?
Signed: Do I Have A Wart On My Hand?

Dear Do I Have A Wart On My Hand?,

Warts are a benign (non-cancerous) skin growths that appear when a virus infects the top later of the skin. Viruses that cause warts are called human papillomavirus (HPV). You are more likely to get one of these viruses if you cut or damage your skin in some way. Wart viruses are contagious. Warts can spread by contact with the wart or something that touched the wart.

If you think you may have a wart on your hand, it is best to schedule an appointment with your doctor so that he/she can confirm whether or not it is a wart, as well as to recommend the best treatment method for you to start with.

You should see your doctor for common warts if:

  • The growths are painful or change in appearance or color

  • You've tried treating the warts, but they persist, spread or recur

  • The growths are bothersome and interfere with activities

  • You also have a weakened immune system because of immune-suppressing drugs, HIV/AIDS or other immune system disorders

  • You aren't sure whether the growths are warts

The goals of treatment are to destroy the wart, stimulate an immune system response to fight the virus, or both. Treatment may take weeks or months. Even with treatment, warts tend to recur or spread. Doctors generally start with the least painful methods, especially when treating young children.

  • Stronger peeling medicine (salicylic acid). Prescription-strength wart medications with salicylic acid work by removing layers of a wart a little bit at a time. Studies show that salicylic acid is more effective when combined with freezing.

  • Freezing (cryotherapy). Freezing therapy done at a doctor's office involves applying liquid nitrogen to your wart. Freezing works by causing a blister to form under and around your wart. Then, the dead tissue sloughs off within a week or so. This method may also stimulate your immune system to fight viral warts. You may need repeat treatments. Side effects of cryotherapy include pain, blistering and discolored skin in the treated area.

  • Other acids. If salicylic acid or freezing isn't working, your doctor may try bichloroacetic or trichloroacetic acid. With this method, the doctor first shaves the surface of the wart and then applies the acid with a wooden toothpick. It requires repeat treatments every week or so. Side effects are burning and stinging.

  • Laser treatment. Pulsed-dye laser treatment burns (cauterizes) tiny blood vessels. The infected tissue eventually dies, and the wart falls off. The evidence for the effectiveness of this method is limited, and it can cause pain and scarring.

If you don't have a doctor and live in northern New Jersey, you can call the Adolescent/Young Adult Center for Health at 973-971-5199 for an appointment with an adolescent medicine specialist or contact your local teen health center. You can also contact your insurance company for a list of in-network providers.

Signed: TeenHealthFX