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Warts: What Causes Them? - Dr. Heck

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Dr. Heck describes warts, common causes, and how they are treated.

Dr. Heck:
Warts are caused by an infectious agent, the HPV virus, the human papillomavirus. There are over a hundred different types of the HPV virus, but only a few types cause the common warts. It is a frequent problem seen by the dermatologists and often requires numerous office visits to treat because it is an infection.

Warts don’t usually cause significant harm. It’s unlike cervical warts that can lead to cancer, but they can spread. So you can spread them over your body, or they are contagious, you could give them to somebody else.

There is a very rare risk of a wart causing squamous cell carcinoma. As I said, it’s very rare and it’s only associated with certain wart types but if a wart starts growing, looking atypical, bleeding quite a bit, it’s definitely something that the dermatologist should see.

Right behind me I have a Cryogun and it sprays liquid nitrogen, which is a very, very cold spray that gives the wart frostbite. It causes it to scab up and hopefully peel off completely although often it takes numerous treatments. Over-the-counter salicylic acid preparations are very effective, as is duct tape. Duct tape acts as an irritant to the wart and it really does help.

There are other topical sensitizers that we use such as squaric acid. It works very similar to poison IV. We expose just the wart area of the skin to it to sensitize the patient, and the second time the patient experiences contact with the squaric acid the skin becomes very inflamed and angry and kind of tries to eat the wart up from the inside out. Squaric acid is a topical sensitization treatment that can be provided at your dermatologist’s office.

About Dr. Shannon Heck, M.D.:
Shannon Heck, M.D., F.A.A.D., is a board certified dermatologist and a partner in a large, thriving dermatologic practice in Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona. She specializes in general and cosmetic dermatology.