Most plantar warts are harmless and go away without treatment, though it may take a year or two. If your warts are painful or spreading, you may want to try treating them with over-the-counter (nonprescription) medications or home remedies. You may need many repeated treatments before the warts go away, and they may return later.
If your self-care approaches haven't helped, talk with your doctor about these treatments:
Stronger peeling medicine (salicylic acid). Prescription-strength wart medications with salicylic acid work by removing layers of a wart a little bit at a time. They may also stimulate your immune system's ability to fight the wart.
Your doctor will likely suggest you apply the medicine regularly at home, followed by occasional office visits.
Freezing medicine (cryotherapy). Cryotherapy done at a doctor's office involves applying liquid nitrogen to the wart, either with a spray or a cotton swab. This method can be painful, so your doctor may numb the area first.
The chemical causes a blister to form around your wart, and the dead tissue sloughs off within a week or so. Cryotherapy may also stimulate your immune system to fight viral warts. You may need to return to the doctor's office for repeat treatments every two to four weeks until the wart disappears.
Some studies suggest that cryotherapy combined with salicylic acid treatment is more effective than just cryotherapy, but further study is needed.
Surgical or other procedures
If salicylic acid and freezing medicine don't work, your doctor may recommend one or more of the following treatments:
- Other acids. Your doctor shaves the surface of the wart and applies trichloroacetic acid with a wooden toothpick. You'll need to return to the doctor's office for repeat treatments every week or so. Side effects include burning and stinging. Between visits, you may be asked to apply salicylic acid to the wart.
- Immune therapy. This method uses medications or solutions to stimulate your immune system to fight viral warts. Your doctor may inject your warts with a foreign substance (antigen) or apply a solution or cream to the warts.
- Minor surgery. Your doctor cuts away the wart or destroys it by using an electric needle (electrodesiccation and curettage). This procedure can be painful, so your doctor will numb your skin first. Because surgery has a risk of scarring, this method usually isn't used to treat plantar warts unless other treatments have failed.
- Laser treatment. Pulsed-dye laser treatment burns closed (cauterizes) tiny blood vessels. The infected tissue eventually dies, and the wart falls off. This method requires repeat treatments every three to four weeks. The evidence for the effectiveness of this method is limited, and it can cause pain and potentially scarring.
- Vaccine. HPV vaccine has been used with success to treat warts even though this vaccine is not specifically targeted toward the wart virus that causes the majority of plantar warts.
May 18, 2017
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- Gibson LE (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. March 14, 2017.
- Some wart removers are flammable. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm381429.htm?source=govdelivery&utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery. Accessed March 2, 2017.
- Landis MN, et al. Recalcitrant plantar warts treated with recombinant quadrivalent human papillomavirus vaccine. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 2012;67:e73.
- Habif TP. Plantar warts. In: Clinical Dermatology: A Color Guide to Diagnosis and Therapy. 6th ed. Edinburgh, U.K.; New York, N.Y.: Elsevier; 2016. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed March 2, 2017.
- Kwok CS, et al. Topical treatments for cutaneous warts. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD001781.pub3/abstract. Accessed March 2, 2017.
- Warts. American Academy of Dermatology. http://www.aad.org/dermatology-a-to-z/diseases-and-treatments/u---w/warts. Accessed March 2, 2017.