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Verrucas – symptoms, treatment and prevention

What are verrucas?

Verrucas, sometimes called plantar warts or spelled verrucae, are warts that develop on plantar surfaces -- that is, the soles (or bottom) of the feet. The pressure from normal standing and walking tends to force the warts into the skin, and this can make the warts painful. Like all warts, they are harmless and may go away even without treatment, but in many cases they are too painful to ignore. Verrucas that grow together in a cluster are known as mosaic warts.

What causes verrucas?

Verrucas, like all warts, are caused by a virus that invades the skin through tiny cuts or scrapes. It can take some weeks, or even months, for a verruca to appear after you have caught the infection. This is called the incubation period. Like other viral infections, verrucas are contagious, commonly spread from the surface of floors in public swimming pools, communal showers, or even your shower at home. Epidemics of verrucas sometimes break out among people who share gym or athletic facilities or who engage in group activities where bare feet are the rule, such as yoga and martial arts. Because most people build immunity to the virus with age, verrucas are more common in children than in adults.


What are the symptoms of verrucas?

The symptoms of verrucas include:

  • Small, bumpy growths on the soles of the feet, often with a tiny black dot, or dots, on the surface.
  • Pain in the soles of the feet when standing or walking.

Photo close-up of plantar warts
Picture of a verruca - Copyright 2007 Interactive Medical Media LLC


What are the treatments for verrucas?

Deciding how to treat verrucas may depend on your ability to tolerate the pain that the various treatments can inflict. Folk remedies for treating warts abound, and there is no single treatment that works every time. Conventional treatment focuses on removal, while alternative approaches emphasise gradual remission. Whatever you do, do not try to cut off a verruca yourself, because you may injure yourself.


Conventional medicine for verrucas

There are some treatments available over the counter. Treatment of verrucas may involve rubbing off or paring away the dead skin after each treatment. This is best done by the practice nurse, your doctor or a chiropodist, especially if you have diabetes or any problems with the circulation to the feet. Your practice nurse or doctor may try applying corrosive solutions such as salicylic acid to the verrucas to try to eliminate them. Treatment may take several weeks to be effective. Burning (cautery), freezing with liquid nitrogen, and surgical removal are more aggressive options for more severe conditions. Laser therapy is seldom used but can be effective.

Your doctor or podiatrist will probably also give you detailed instructions on how to care for your feet at home.


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