Are Warts Caused by Being Dirty?

Medically Reviewed on 12/28/2021

What are warts?

Warts are a common skin problem that can happen in both kids and adults. Warts are not caused by being dirty, but by viruses in the HPV family.
Warts are a common skin problem that can happen in both kids and adults. Warts are not caused by being dirty, but by viruses in the HPV family.

Warts are a common skin problem that can happen in both kids and adults. If you’ve had one, you know that they can be uncomfortable, painful, or even embarrassing. But do you know what causes warts? Here’s what you need to know.

Warts are small lumps or skin growths that usually pop up on your hands or feet. You can have a single wart or they may grow in clusters. Warts can vary in appearance and even though some look cancerous, they are harmless. Anyone can get warts, but kids and teens are more prone to them.

Warts usually are the same color as your skin and have a rough texture when you touch them. Sometimes they can be flat and smooth in texture and either dark brown or gray in color. They can also vary in size. Occasionally, warts may be black in color with seed-like dots on them.

There are many kinds of warts. Some of the most common kinds include:

  • Common warts that appear on your elbows, face, and knees
  • Flat warts that grow in clusters on the backs of your hands, legs, and face
  • Filiform warts that grow on your eyelids, face, neck, or lips
  • Genital warts found on your genitals or in the genital area
  • Plantar and palmar warts that appear on the soles of your feet (plantar) or palms of your hands (palmar)
  • Periungual warts that look like thick skin growing around your nails

What causes warts?

There are many myths about how you get warts. The cause is actually an infection of the human papillomavirus (HPV). There are more than 100 kinds of HPV that can cause different types of warts. HPV viruses can be passed from one person to another by close physical contact or by touching something that’s been infected. The infections can grow anywhere on your skin or where you have mucus membranes, like your mouth or genitals.

Once you’ve been infected with HPV, it can take up to a year for the warts to grow and become visible. After appearing, they grow really slowly over the next months or even years. Since there are many viruses in the HPV family, it’s possible that you’ve built up immunity to some kinds but not others.

You’re more likely to develop warts if your skin is damaged by a scratch or cut since these are places for infection. Warts are contagious so it’s easy to get warts in public places like swimming pools or public showers where people are barefoot. Even touching something like a dirty towel or bathmat that’s been infected with the HPV virus can lead to warts.

Treatment and care

Warts are harmless and about half of them will disappear on their own within a year or two. They can linger around longer in adults or people that have weakened immune systems. If your warts aren’t causing you any problems, there isn’t a medical reason to treat them. Even so, some people feel embarrassed by them so there are several wart treatments that you can try.

Home care. To treat your wart at home, make sure that you keep it covered with a bandage or waterproof tape. This keeps the HPV virus from spreading to other parts of your body or to someone else. Any time that you touch the wart or change the bandage, make sure that you wash your hands with soap and water to kill off any germs on your hands.

You can get wart treatments at many pharmacies without a prescription. These are usually paints or ointments that contain salicylic or lactic acid that peel away layers of infected skin. These treatments can take a few months to work and are usually most effective on the hands. To be most effective, soak your wart in warm water for 10 minutes and then rub the infected skin with a pumice stone. Apply the treatment and then cover the wart.

Remember that warts are stubborn and it may take a while for them to go away. Treatments aren’t guaranteed to work and warts may still persist.

Seeing a doctor. If your wart isn’t clearing up, you can see your doctor or dermatologist for help. Your doctor can freeze off stubborn warts through cryosurgery. To do so, your doctor will apply liquid nitrogen to the wart. It should fall off within the next few days. For warts that are really hard to remove, your doctor can try to get rid of them through laser surgery.

Your doctor may advise you to continue with over-the-counter treatments even after cryosurgery or laser surgery to make sure that the wart goes away.

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Medically Reviewed on 12/28/2021
References
SOURCES:

American Academy of Dermatology Association: "How to Heal Warts More Quickly and Prevent New Ones."

BetterHealth Channel: "Warts."

Cedars Sinai: "What are warts?"

Dignity Health: "How Do You Get Warts? A Quick Guide to Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments."

Nemours TeensHealth: "Warts."

NHS inform: "Warts and verrucas."

The Royal Children's Hospital of Melbourne: "Warts."