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Plantar warts: 6 treatments and prevention

  • Plantar warts are painful growths on the feet caused by HPV, but they are not STIs.
  • To get rid of stubborn warts, try duct tape, cryotherapy, immunotherapy, topical acid, or surgery.
  • To prevent plantar warts, wear shoes in public, wash and dry your feet regularly, and wear breathable shoes.
  • Visit Insider’s Health Reference Library for more tips.

Plantar warts, caused by certain strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), are small growths that usually appear on the feet, especially on the heels or under the toes.

Sometimes these warts can cause pain or discomfort when you put weight on the foot while standing or walking. And if left untreated, they can become larger, more painful, and more prone to infection.

Although caused by HPV, plantar warts are not considered a sexually transmitted infection because the specific strains that cause them are distinct from the sexually transmitted strains of HPV.

However, HPV is contagious, so plantar warts can be passed from person to person through a surface or object that has the virus or through direct skin-to-skin contact.

According to Step Up Footcare Certified Podiatrist Nelya Lobkova, DPM, plantar warts are quite common and most cases occur in children and teenagers. Immunocompromised people are also at higher risk.

There are two main methods to get rid of plantar warts:

  • destructive therapy targets the wart (not the virus), removing it by peeling back layers of skin using treatments like duct tape, salicylic acid, surgery, and laser therapy.
  • Immunotherapy is the most non-destructive approach and typically uses topical treatments to help your immune system fight off the virus.

It is important to note that plantar warts usually go away on their own, but it can take over a year for them to go away completely. If you don’t want to wait, opt for a gentler treatment like duct tape or cryotherapy first before opting for a more aggressive treatment that could lead to permanent scarring.

Below, podiatrists share six different treatments for plantar warts and which are the most effective.

1. Masking tape

By applying a piece of tape directly to the wart, the adhesive can gradually remove the wart in layers, says Lobkova.

For this method, Lobkova recommends keeping the tape on for three days, removing it and scraping the skin off with a pumice stone, then applying the tape again 10 to 12 hours later.

How effective is it: “The skin renews itself every 28 days, so the earliest you can expect to see changes with this method,” says Lobkova. “However, duct tape alone has rarely been successful in treating plantar warts in my experience.”

And research has shown cryotherapy to be more effective.

2. Cryotherapy

Cryotherapy is a freezing technique that involves applying a solution that causes a blister to form around the wart. As the blister dries out, the wart may then fall off.

According to Lobkova, this can be done at home with over-the-counter kits like Compound W Freeze Off and Dr. Scholl’s Freeze Away — or at the doctor’s office.

Home kits contain dimethyl ether combined with propane, which you apply directly to the wart. A doctor is more likely to use liquid nitrogen, which Lobkova says is stronger and therefore may be more effective.

Because liquid nitrogen cryotherapy can be painful, a doctor often numbs the area with an anesthetic before cutting the skin and applying the freezing substance with a spray or cotton ball.

You can expect the area around the wart to be a little tender for a few days after treatment, says Lobkova.

How effective is it: It often takes several treatments to get rid of plantar warts with cryotherapy, Lobkova says, and most people won’t see any improvement for three to four weeks or more. Research has shown that cryotherapy has a 25% success rate in curing plantar warts.

3. Topical acids

Medicines containing salicylic acid, lactic acid and trichloroacetic acid basically work by dissolving and removing the wart one layer at a time. These are available both as over-the-counter and prescription medications.

Over-the-counter products are usually a patch or liquid that you apply daily to the wart after soaking it in warm water to soften and loosen the skin.

For best results, cover the wart with a sock or bandage after applying the solution, wash it off the next morning, then exfoliate the area with an emery board or pumice stone. This method is usually painless, but can sometimes cause mild irritation or discomfort, says Bruce Pinker, DPM, podiatrist and board-certified foot surgeon at Progressive Foot Care.

How effective is it: A 2019 review found that salicylic acid was just as effective as cryotherapy for treating plantar warts. It will usually take at least two weeks and up to several months to see results with this method, according to Lobkova.

4. Surgery

Surgery is only recommended for plantar warts if they persist after several months of trying other conventional treatments, Pinker says.

The surgery involves cutting out the wart, Lobkova says, and while your doctor usually numbs the area first, she notes that the local anesthetic injection can be painful. In some cases, you may be sedated for the procedure.

Additionally, she says that sometimes cutting into the dermis layer of the skin can cause scarring which can lead to pain for some time after surgery when you put weight on it.

In most cases, the skin needs to be stitched back up with sutures afterwards, Pinker says, and the healing process is monitored through multiple follow-up visits.

“Surgical excision is no longer a typical treatment for plantar warts, as there are many other effective and less invasive options these days,” says Lobkova.

5. Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy involves locally applying or injecting a chemical, such as candida antigen, to stimulate an immune response that targets and eliminates plantar warts.

Some of the more common solutions, according to Lobkova, include imiquimod and fluorouracil. All of these medications require a prescription, but while injections must be given in a doctor’s office, topical creams can be used at home.

Treatments are spaced two weeks apart and it can take two to three months to see results, says Lobkova.

Immunotherapy is usually only considered in severe cases where other treatments haven’t worked, says Pinker. Additionally, experts note that it is usually combined with acids, lasers, or other treatments to speed up results.

How effective is it: A small 2017 study found that immunotherapy was more effective than cryotherapy for treating plantar warts: 76.7% of patients were cured by the former, while 56.7% of patients were cured by the latter .

One of the benefits of immunotherapy is that it can help prevent future outbreaks of recurring plantar warts.

6. Laser treatment

If you’re dealing with a large, stubborn wart that doesn’t respond to other methods, laser treatments can also be used to burn off the top layer of the wart, Lobkova says. As these treatments can be painful, they are almost always performed under local anesthesia.

While Lobkova says the cost will vary depending on the type of laser used, the size of the wart and whether or not your insurance covers it, it’s important to note that this is one of the more expensive options to approximately $360 for three sessions. Lobkova says you can expect results in about three to four weeks after treatment.

How effective is it: A small 2018 study found that with a laser, fewer sessions were needed to remove plantar warts compared to cryotherapy. Note, however, that there is a slight risk of scarring with these treatments.

Prevention

Keep in mind that you have a higher risk of getting plantar warts if you already have a history of them, says Pinker.

Once your plantar warts are gone, podiatrists say there are several things you can do to prevent them from coming back, such as changing your shoes and socks daily to keep your feet clean and dry to prevent infection.

Here are some additional tips:

  • Wear shoes in public places: Lobkova says it’s important to always wear something on your feet when walking around public pools, gyms, locker rooms and showers. This is not only because they are contagious, but also because you are more prone to infections when your skin is moist and soft.
  • Wash your hands after handling warts: As you can re-infect yourself by touching warts and then another part of your foot or body, always wash your hands after handling them.
  • Wash and dry the feet regularly and carefully: Consider washing your feet every night, and always after physical activity or sweating. Since the virus that causes plantar warts thrives in moisture, Pinker recommends applying superabsorbent powder to your feet after washing and toweling them dry. Don’t forget to dry between your toes.
  • Wear breathable shoes: Shoes that have a breathable top layer allow your feet to breathe so sweat doesn’t get trapped inside, says Lobkova. Whenever possible, Lobkova also advises removing insoles, especially inside athletic shoes, to allow them to dry before putting them back on.

Insider’s Takeaways

Plantar warts are hard growths caused by the HPV virus that appear on the soles of the feet. Although they can be bothersome and sometimes painful, they are usually not serious and can even go away with over-the-counter remedies.

Duct tape, topical acids, and cryotherapy are several common methods that can all be used at home.

“If home treatments are not successful after a few applications, seek the advice of a healthcare professional,” says Pinker.

Immunotherapy and laser treatments are two options for stubborn plantar warts that should be prescribed by a doctor. Surgery to remove plantar warts is usually a last resort.

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