Warts are a common but mild skin condition, normally triggered by an infection of the human papilloma virus, or HPV.
There are over 60 strains of HPV known to cause an outbreak of warts, with symptoms usually manifesting on the fingers or toes.1 The virus works by stimulating a rapid growth of the protein keratin, causing it to develop on the epidermis as hard, tough lump.
Although warts are not considered to be extremely contagious, they can be contracted through direct or indirect contact with an infected party. The virus normally affects those with an immature or weakened immune system, which is why outbreaks are so common amongst young children and teenagers.
In most cases, warts diminish over time without the need for treatment; however some warts can take years to clear up, making medical interference necessary for the sufferer. There are five distinct types of warts that we shall be discussing in this hub:
- Common warts
- Flat warts
- Periungual warts
Keratin is a structural protein found in your skin, hair and nails. It can vary in texture and flexibility, depending on the levels of amino acids present in that given area – this is why skin appears soft and malleable, while your nails are much tougher and inflexible.
The protein is produced from living cells known as ‘keratinocytes.’ In skin conditions like psoriasis, these cells can grow at extraordinary rates, although normally dead keratinocytes form a protective barrier on the epidermis, usually being shed by the thousands every day.2
The HPV, or Human Papilloma Virus, is usually associated with cervical cancer. While it is true that certain strains of the infection, namely HPV-16 and HPV-18, can cause cancer, there are over a hundred different variants of the virus and the types of HPV responsible for warts are definitely noncancerous and benign.
HPV works by entering your immune system through the epidermis, permeating the mucous membranes of your skin and stimulating an overproduction of keratin.
Immune cells can sometimes find it difficult to recognise the HPV virus as they primarily occupy the dermis, the layer of skin underneath the epidermis where the HPV virus lingers.3
The HPV virus can be transmitted either through direct skin-on-skin contact or indirect contact. Warts, such as verrucas, are notorious for being quite contagious and prominent amongst children, who then pass the infection on to their playmates and parents.
However, the HPV virus sometimes does not require a human host as the infection can linger on inanimate objects, such as hairbrushes, razor blades, floors or clothing.
The ideal breeding ground for the virus tends to be places that are warm and damp, thriving and prospering in gym changing rooms or communal showers. If your skin is already weakened or damaged, it can also aid the disease as the virus will find it easier to permeate your epidermis and infect your immune system.
The primary cause of warts will always be the HPV virus, however a number of other factors can still play a role in aiding the spread of the infection.
The immune system, for example, is particularly significant when it comes to combatting the virus, with wart patients usually suffering an impaired immune function, either due to lifestyle habits or a pre-existing health condition. If you want to find out more about the causes of warts, please review our Causes page for more information.
The symptoms of warts are quite well-known and are not usually misdiagnosed; however some people do still delay on getting treatment when it is needed. The most common symptom of warts is the roughened lump of skin that can appear on the epidermis.
The size and shape of this lump can vary depending on the strain of warts that you are suffering from, but normally it is a superficial issue, with no real repercussions on your overall health. If you want to read more about the symptoms of warts, please check out our warts Symptoms page for further information.
There are many different types of wart treatments available, as the infection is so common amongst both children and adults. The conventional medicines are usually more concerned about removing the actual wart itself, rather than focusing on ways of limiting the spread of the HPV virus.
Fortunately, natural and herbal remedies do attempt to combat this issue and relieve not only your external symptoms, but your internal symptoms as well. Please read our Treatments page for more information.