Plantar warts are caused by an HPV (human papillomavirus) infection in the skin on the soles of your feet. These warts can be unsightly and quite painful. They can also cause serious complications for individuals with diabetes or conditions that compromise the immune system.
How HPV Infection Causes Plantar Warts
HPV infection is very common. In total, there are over 100 different strains of human papillomavirus. One strain of HPV can cause cancers in the genital area, including cervical cancer. Another strain leads to plantar warts on the feet.
HPV is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact. If you have plantar warts, the infection entered your body through a small cut, break, or weak spot on the foot.
The HPV strain that leads to plantar warts thrives in moist, warm environments such as swimming pools and locker rooms. This is why podiatrists recommend that you wear flip-flops or shower shoes to protect your feet.
Although it’s not the most common form of transmission, it is also possible to get plantar warts by sharing shoes or socks with someone who is infected with this strain of HPV.
It is important to note that everyone’s immune system responds differently to HPV infection. Coming into contact with the virus won’t necessarily result in plantar warts, even if an infected individual lives in your home. Children are more likely than adults to get plantar warts because most people build immunity to the HPV strain that causes the warts as they age.
Once you have plantar warts, it’s possible for additional warts to spread from the initial site of infection. Picking or scratching the warts can cause them to spread. Using the same nail clippers, pumice stone, or emery board on an area covered in warts as you do on your healthy skin can also cause the infection to spread.
Diagnosing and Treating Plantar Warts
A podiatrist can typically diagnose plantar warts with a visual examination. Plantar warts are small, fleshy growths on the bottom of the foot—typically at the base of the toes or the heel. The growths have a distinctive black pinpoint in the center, which is sometimes called a wart seed. However, this is actually a small, clotted blood vessel.
In most cases, plantar warts are about the size of a pencil eraser. When the warts grow in clusters, they are referred to as mosaic warts.
Other signs and symptoms of plantar warts include:
- A hard callus over a spot where the wart appears to have grown inward
- Pain when walking or wearing shoes
- Bleeding from the affected area (if the wart has ruptured)
While there are over-the-counter remedies available for plantar warts, attempting to remove the growths at home is generally not recommended. Plantar warts have a tendency to return, especially when they are not being consistently treated.
Some of the options your podiatrist may recommend to treat plantar warts include:
- Salicylic acid. Prescription-strength salicylic acid removes a wart layer by layer.
- Trichloroacetic acid. This is a stronger version of salicylic acid. Your podiatrist may recommend in-office treatments of trichloroacetic acid followed by applications of salicylic acid at your home.
- Cryotherapy. This treatment involves using liquid nitrogen to cause a blister to kill the infected tissue.
- Laser treatment. This method of treating plantar warts involves cutting off the blood vessels supplying the wart so the tissue dies.
- Immunotherapy. If plantar warts are a reoccurring problem, your podiatrist may recommend medications that improve your immune system’s ability to fight viral warts.
- Surgery. If conservative treatments have failed, your podiatrist may suggest surgical removal of the wart. This is a minor procedure that involves cutting away the wart or destroying it with an electric needle (electrodesiccation and curettage) after numbing medication has been applied to the area.
Schedule an Appointment With Our Omaha Podiatrists
Don’t let painful and embarrassing plantar warts keep you from your daily activities. Our experienced Omaha podiatrists treat plantar warts, as well as a wide range of other skin and nail conditions affecting the feet. Complete our contact form or call our office at 402-333-8856 to schedule an appointment.