If you’ve recently spent time at a public pool (indoor or out) or taken showers at the gym, you may be at risk of developing a plantar wart. Plantar warts are caused by an infection that enters the body through small cracks or cuts typically found on the sole of the foot. As anyone who has ever experienced a plantar wart knows, the growths can be uncomfortable and unattractive. The good news? Plantar wart treatment at home is possible, and doctors agree some methods can be quite effective!
What are plantar warts?
A plantar wart (verruca plantaris) is a growth that is found on the bottom of the foot. The warts typically show up on the balls and heels of the feet, in the areas that bear the most pressure. They are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), a virus that thrives in damp areas, such as showers, pools, locker rooms and water parks.
What’s the difference between plantar warts and common warts?
“Both plantar and common warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). The only differentiation between the two is the location. Plantar wart refers to growths found on the foot, while common warts can appear on any other part of the body,” explains Nam Tran, DPM, a podiatrist located in Dallas, Texas.
How to identify a plantar wart
Doctors can tell at a glance if you have a plantar wart, and it’s pretty easy to determine yourself, too. Unlike a common wart — which is raised above the skin’s surface — a plantar wart forms underneath the skin on the foot. “Plantar warts have a few characteristics that differentiate them from other soft-tissue growths,” explains Anne Sharkey, DPM, a podiatrist in Austin, Texas. “They often have a bumpy, raised, cauliflower-like appearance with tiny black dots. The tiny black dots occur because of blood within the capillaries that are present within the wart.”
Are plantar warts contagious?
Plantar warts are indeed contagious. They’re spreadable by direct contact. “Those with dampened immune responses can be more prone to warts as well as those with damaged skin barrier,” cautions Dr. Sharkey. That’s why doctors recommend keeping plantar warts covered by a sock or bandage to decrease the risk of spreading. You should also wash your hands thoroughly after touching a plantar wart.
“Because it is very contagious, avoiding direct exposure greatly decreases the chance of contracting the virus,” says Dr. Tran. “Some things you can do to avoid contracting the virus are avoiding direct contact with active warts, don’t walk barefoot around public pools and showers and regularly sterilize your shoes and shower floors.” (Click through for a genius shower-cleaning hack.)
Finally, he adds, “Walking barefoot will not only increase the chances of contracting a plantar wart, but it also increases the risk of spreading it to someone else if you already have one. Wearing socks can be a great way to protect yourself and others.”
Are plantar warts cancerous?
Although some strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV) can lead to cancer, the strain of HPV that causes a plantar wart is not cancerous. (Click through to our sister site for must-read info on HPV in seniors.)
6 at-home plantar wart treatments
Most plantar warts will go away on their own, but it can take time. Fortunately, you can speed the process a bit with these easy plantar wart treatments at home.
1. Duct tape smothers plantar warts
“A common remedy is duct tape application, says Dr. Sharkey. “This works by occlusion,” (basically smothering the plantar wart). “This remedy works,” she says, “but the duct tape must be applied and left on consistently, sometimes for many weeks.” Indeed, one study shows that 85% of the warts that were covered in duct tape completely resolved within 28 days. To achieve the same result, cover your plantar wart with a piece of duct tape during the daytime and leave it uncovered while you sleep. Repeat the process until the wart dies off.
2. Banana peel breaks down plantar warts
Unusual? Yes — but it’s also surprisingly effective! In a case study published in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, this simple remedy shrunk a plantar wart in two weeks and the wart had vanished after six weeks. How does it work? It’s believed that the potassium in bananas helps break down the wart, making it easier to slough off. To try this plantar wart treatment at home, simply cut a small piece of banana peel and secure it over the plantar wart with medical tape or a bandage. Use this remedy overnight for two weeks to reveal a softened wart that is ready for removal. To remove it, move a foot file (buy at Walmart, $7.97), pumice stone or emery board back and forth over the wart. “It’s important to avoid using this file for anything other than the plantar wart as it may spread the infection,” cautions Dr. Tran.
3. Apple cider vinegar dissolves infected skin
Vinegar boasts acetic acid, which can kill some types of bacteria and viruses on contact. “Apple cider vinegar can have the same effect as salicylic acid,” asserts Dr. Tran. (Keep scrolling for more on salicylic acid for plantar warts). It’s thought that apple cider vinegar slowly destroys infected skin, causing the wart to fall off. Furthermore, the irritation from the acid stimulates the immune system’s ability to fight the virus that caused the wart in the first place. To use, soak a cotton ball in diluted apple cider vinegar and place it on the wart. Secure with a bandage and let sit overnight. Repeat until the wart is gone. This may take several days to achieve the desired results. Podiatrist Leonard Greenwald, DPM, is a fan of this remedy but warns that apple cider vinegar may irritate your skin; if you experience burning or irritation, remove the solution.
4. Vitamin C boosts overall immunity
Since plantar warts stem from a viral infection, it is extremely beneficial to boost your immune system to help ward off future warts, says Dr. Tran. “Adults who present with wart infections may have a weakened immune system that leads to contracting the virus.” That’s why it’s a good idea to load up on foods rich in immunity-boosting vitamin C. Citrus fruits, such as oranges, lemons, kiwis, guavas, pineapples and strawberries are all great sources, as are bell peppers, kale and broccoli.
5. Zinc helps the body fight infections
Along the same lines as vitamin C, zinc helps boost the immune system and fight off viral infections in the body, such as HPV. To get the perks, experts recommend supplementing with 10 mg of over-the-counter zinc a day. In one study, people who did so for two months experienced complete resolution of warts. Prefer a topical remedy? Try applying a zinc oxide ointment to the skin twice daily for three months (Buy on Amazon, $5.80 for 3 tubes).
6. Silver nitrate can destroy the wart
Over-the-counter silver nitrate sticks (buy at Walmart, $21.25 for 10) can eradicate plantar warts. To apply, use a foot file to remove any dead skin covering the wart, then wet the applicator tip and press the silver nitrate onto the wart. The water activates the silver nitrate to destroy the wart in seconds. Lastly, cover with a bandage. Proof this remedy works: In one study, silver nitrate sticks healed warts for 69% of people.
3 medical treatments for plantar warts
If DIY is not your thing and you’d rather receive care from your doctor, a podiatrist or dermatologist will be your best bet. Other times to see your doctor, according to Dr. Sharkey: “If the wart is painful, enlarging, spreading or not resolving with home remedies, seek medical treatment.” And Dr Tran adds that you should see a doctor “if the infection extends beyond one or two warts on the foot.” If you do see your doctor, he or she has several ways to remove your wart:
Doctors use a very cold substance called liquid nitrogen to essentially freeze off the plantar wart. Liquid nitrogen causes a blister to form under and around the wart which results in the wart sloughing off in about a week. “This is an effective method for treating plantar warts,” says Dr. Tran. “Over-the-counter freezing can work for small plantar warts, but larger lesions may need a physician to freeze them in the office.”
“This works, but it’s not my favorite option,” says Dr. Sharkey. “Freezing tends to be painful and needs to be repeated for optimal treatment.”
2. Prescription salicylic acid
A dermatologist or podiatrist can offer prescription-strength topical salicylic acid, which you apply daily. It works by removing the wart layer by layer, and it’s incredibly effective. In one study, applying a cream made with 50% salicylic acid eliminated plantar warts as effectively as cryotherapy. In the study, people who applied the cream to their warts found that the wart had cleared after 12 weeks. Many over-the-counter wart removers, like Compound W Maximum Strength Fast Acting Liquid Wart Remover (buy at Amazon, $6.56) contain this healing ingredient, but at much lower doses.
If you’re looking for speedy wart removal in one visit, your doctor may recommend electrosurgery and curettage. Electrosurgery is where the doctor essentially burns the wart, and curettage involves scraping off the wart with a sharp knife or small spoon-shaped tool.
Click through for more helpful foot health tips:
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