What are Plantar Warts?
Warts are one of several
lesser afflictions of the foot, which nevertheless can be quite
painful. They are caused by a virus, which typically invades
the skin through small cuts and abrasions. They are frequently
called plantar warts, because they appear most often on the plantar
surface, or sole, of the foot. They can appear anywhere on the
skin, however, and technically only those on the sole are properly
called plantar warts.
teenagers, tend to be more susceptible to warts than adults;
some people seem to be immune, and never get them.
Most warts are harmless
and benign, even though painful. They are often mistaken for
corns, which are layers of dead skin that build up to protect
an area which is being continuously irritated, whereas a wart
is a viral infection.
It is also possible
that a variety of other more serious lesions, including carcinomas
and melanomas, although they are not overly common, can be mistakenly
identified as warts. Because of those identification problems,
and for pain relief, itís wise to consult a podiatrist
about any suspicious growth or eruption on the skin of the feet.
On the bottom
of the feet, plantar warts tend to be hard and flat, rough-surfaced,
with well-defined boundaries; they are generally fleshier when
theyíre on the top of the feet or the toes. They are often
gray or brown (but the color may vary), with a center that appears
as one or more pinpoints of black.
Source of the Virus
The plantar wart is
often contracted by walking barefooted on dirty surfaces or littered
ground where the virus is lurking. The virus is also sustained
by warm, moist environments, so that warts are often associated
with communal bathing facilities -- more for the wet surfaces,
however, rather than for transmission in water, which probably
If left untreated,
warts can grow to an inch or more in circumference, and they
can spread into clusters of several warts. Like any other infectious
lesion, they are spread by touching and scratching, and even
by contact with skin shed from another wart. They may also bleed,
another route for spreading.
Warts can last
for varying lengths of time, which may average about 18 months.
Occasionally, they spontaneously disappear after a short time.
Perhaps just as frequently, they can recur in the same location.
When plantar warts
develop on the weight-bearing areas of the feet -- the ball of
the foot, or the heel, for example -- they can be the source
of very sharp, burning pain. Pain occurs when weight is brought
to bear directly on the wart, although pressure on the side of
a wart can create pain just as intense.
Tips for Prevention
- Avoid walking barefooted, except
while wearing barefoot shoes.
- Change shoes daily
- Keep feet clean and dry
- Check children's feet periodically
- Avoid direct contact with warts --
from other persons, and from other parts of the body
- Do not ignore skin growths or changes
in your skin
- Visit your podiatrist as part of
your annual health check-up
Self treatment is
generally not advisable. Over-the-counter preparations contain
chemicals that destroy skin cells, and it takes an expert to
destroy abnormal skin cells (warts) without also destroying surrounding
healthy tissue. Self treatment with such medications especially
should be avoided by diabetics and those with cardiovascular
or other circulatory disorders, which cause insensitive feet.
Never use them in the presence of an active infection.
It is possible that
your podiatrist will wish to prescribe and supervise your use
of a wart-removal preparation. More likely, however, removal
of warts by a simple surgical procedure will be indicated.
One common way
is cryocautery, which involves freezing the wart with liquid
nitrogen or another agent. The podiatrist would first use a blade
to remove layers of dead skin which the body has formed over
the wart to protect against irritation, then apply liquid nitrogen
with a cotton swab or another applicator. Often a second application,
some days after the first, is required, and occasionally additional
treatments are necessary -- when several wart clusters are present,
process is electrocautery, destroying the wart by burning it
with an electric needle. Use of the laser for wart removal is
also growing much more common.
procedures are sometimes used in combinations, as well. Local
anesthetics may be required.