What are Plantar Warts?
Plantar warts are hard, painful growths on the plantar area — usually at the heel or sole of your foot. Because of their location, pressure and friction can cause the warts to grow inwards under a hard callous, creating even more pressure and pain. Caused by the Human Papillomavirus, or HPV, plantar warts rarely pose a serious health risk.
Plantar warts develop when the HP virus enters the body through tiny cuts, wounds, or breaks in the skin. Infection may not become apparent until a few weeks (or even months) after. At times, these warts can grow in clusters called mosaic warts. Plantar warts affect people of all ages, but they are most commonly found in children and young adults.
Signs and Symptoms
Plantar warts may vary in size from a small spot to something as large as a small coin.
These are the most common signs and symptoms of plantar warts:
- Hard, round, cauliflower-like growths on your soles or toes
- Hard, circular lesions or callouses, with hardened skin forming over warts that have grown inwards
- Black pinhead-sized spots that are actually clotted blood vessels
- Any discomfort, sensitivity, or actual pain while standing or walking
- Areas under the foot that are smooth, but are discolored with either grey-yellow or brown tones
- Lack of skin striations over the affected areas, as normal ridges in the skin go around the lesion rather than over it
Causes and Risk Factors
At risk for plantar warts are any individuals who have, or are exposed to:
- Any cuts or wounds on the feet
- Highly moist or wet environments where HPV tends to thrive. This includes public showers, bathrooms, kitchen floors and, at times, even one’s own shoes
- Hyperhidrosis, or excessive sweating, which makes individuals suffering from this condition extra susceptible to wart growth
- Lowered immune systems, which can make one more susceptible to infection
Some additional signs that you may have plantar warts are:
- Pain associated with the lesion that can come from touching the mark on the sides rather than directly on it
- Possible bleeding upon abrasion or scratching of the lesion
If you’re unsure whether or not your lesion is a wart, it’s best that you consult a health professional for proper diagnosis and treatment. Seek medical advice if you encounter any of the following issues:
- You have tried self-treatment, but the lesion has grown or persisted, or continues to recur
- The lesion causes pain or discomfort that keeps you from doing your normal, everyday activities
- The lesion has changed in color, appearance, or size
- You have diabetes, or any other disease that can weaken or lower your immune system
- You are taking medication that suppresses your immune system (i.e. drugs for HIV/AIDS or other immune debilitating diseases)
The most effective treatment option for your plantar warts will depend on the seriousness of your specific condition. Here are a few different options to consider:
- Surgical Treatments
Visiting a podiatrist, a medical specialist who deals with medical and surgical issues of the ankles and feet, is your best bet in getting rid of your lesion effectively. The affected area will be treated with a local anesthesia before the lesion itself is trimmed and eventually removed. Because warts are extremely contagious, however, there is a possibility of recurrence. Doctors sometimes use cryosurgery to freeze the wart and wipe out the living tissue causing the infection.
- Prescription vs Over-the-Counter Treatments
Over-the-counter treatments are readily available because plantar warts are common. Most remedies involve the use of a topical medication containing salicylic acid. With consistent application, the wart will slough off slowly until it disappears entirely. Alternatively, you can opt for prescription-strength medication, which have higher concentrations of the formula that allows them to work faster and more effectively than regular over-the-counter treatments. Treatment success highly depends on the consistency of application, as well as the size and composition of the actual plantar wart.
- Oral Treatments
- One oral treatment that you can consider uses the drug Cimetidine. This medication is also available as an injectible.
- Immunotherapy medications can boost your immune system against various viruses, including the HPV virus.
A few topical medications that can be used are the following:
- Retinoid creams, which are topical medications that work by stopping the actual growth of skin cells.
- Cantharidin, also known as Cantharone or Cantharone Plus, must be administered by a doctor. This treatment works by allowing the skin that lies below the wart to blister, causing the wart to lift off the affected area.
- Home Remedies
Although plantar warts are known to go away on their own, many prefer to take an actual hand in removing them. The most popular, albeit unconventional, method is known as the “Duct Tape Method.” Simply place a piece of duct tape on the affected area, and leave it there for approximately six days. After removing the tape, soak the wart in water to soften it enough so you can slowly file the lesion off. This process must be repeated over and over until the plantar wart is finally gone. This method, unfortunately, is rarely successful at removing warts effectively and permanently.
As with any other medical issues, there are ways to prevent yourself from getting plantar warts.
- When in public areas such as pools, showers, and the like, always use slippers or sandals, and refrain from walking around barefoot.
- Make sure to keep your feet clean and dry at all times. Abstain from sharing socks, shoes, slippers, or any other footwear with others — especially with those who may have a history of having warts.
- Do a constant check of your lower extremities — watching out for cuts, wounds, or other growths, especially on and around your feet.
- Be sure to keep yourself clean, shower regularly, and generally observe proper hygiene.
- Take your vitamins and maintain a robust immune system.
- Human Papillomavirus at eMedicine