Ask The Pharmacist: Warts and Verrucae

Warts are small, rough lumps or growths on your skin that most people, witches and Gruffalos will get at some point in their lives. You can get them anywhere, but warts are most common on your hands, knees and feet. A wart on the sole of your foot is called a verruca. Warts and verrucae can be unsightly, but they are mostly harmless. The obvious difference between a verruca and a wart is that a verruca is not raised from the skin’s surface. Pressure from the weight of your body can cause the verruca to grow back into the skin which can, on occasion, be painful.  A virus known as HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) is responsible for causing both warts and veruccae  the virus infects cells in your skin, causing it to thicken and coarsen.

Warts and verrucae are contagious which means they can be passed by skin to skin contact. They can also spread by contact with floors or surfaces contaminated with the virus. If your skin is wet or you have any cuts or grazes you are more likely to pick up the virus, so infection is often linked to swimming pools and shared changing rooms. It can be difficult to avoid coming into contact with the virus. To prevent getting a wart or verruca or passing the virus to others, avoid sharing towels and if you are at the swimming pool or showers wear flip-flops to protect your feet. If you have a wart or verruca cover it with a waterproof plaster when swimming, or wear verucca socks. Try not to scratch or pick at it as if you rupture the wart or verruca it is more likely to spread the virus to other parts of your skin. 

Warts and verrucae usually disappear themselves within two years. Often leaving them untreated is the best option, especially for children, as some treatments can be time-consuming, painful and cause side-effects. However, when warts or veruccae become painful, unsightly or just won’t go away, treatments are available from your local pharmacy. The main types of treatment are salicylic acid-based products (e.g. Bazuka Treatment Gel) and cryotherapy (e.g. Actifreeze).

Bazuka Gel can take about 12 weeks to get rid of the wart or verruca and requires daily application. The treatment will also affect healthy skin so it is important to apply with care or use a corn plaster or Vaseline to protect the healthy skin.  

Actifreeze freezes the verruca or wart and usually it will drop off in about 10 to 14 days leaving healthy skin underneath. One treatment can be sufficient to get rid of the wart or verruca; however, it may take a few applications. It can sometimes be painful so it should be used with caution on young children. 

If a wart or verruca bleeds, starts to spread or change in appearance, or is causing you pain and distress you should see your GP. If you have any medical conditions (e.g. diabetes) you should speak to your pharmacist before beginning any treatment.

Richard Dunn is a community pharmacist with Gordons Chemists. 

The content of this article is for general information only. The information is not for diagnostic purposes and should not be treated as such. You must not rely on the information in this column as an alternative to medical advice from your GP or other professional healthcare provider.

Gordons Chemists is the largest independently owned retail pharmacy chain in Northern Ireland. Established in 1980, Gordons now has 60 pharmacies on the high street and in shopping centres across Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Products described are available at most pharmacies and Gordons Chemists does not endorse any individual product. Always consult your pharmacist in relation to your individual symptoms.


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