Q. I have a wart on my hand. Does it need to be treated?
A. Warts on your hands and fingers are called common warts. They’re caused by a strain of human papillomavirus (HPV)— a strain different from those that cause genital warts and cervical cancer.
Common warts are benign and may clear up without treatment; however, many people have them removed because they can be unattractive and painful. Also, the virus may spread to other parts of your body or to other people—another good reason to opt for removal. (Some people, unfortunately, are highly susceptible to this strain of HPV, and for them, common warts can be a chronic problem.)
Before treatment, see your doctor to make sure you have a wart and not another skin condition. To remove a wart yourself, use a salicylic acid treatment purchased from your drugstore, such as Compound W or Occlusal-HP.
If drugstore treatments don’t work, your doctor may freeze the wart with liquid nitrogen (cryotherapy) or apply cantharidin, a chemical that causes the skin under the wart to blister and raises the wart off the skin so it can be cut off. Both procedures may hurt and can take multiple treatments.
If you decide to let the wart clear up on its own, prevent it from spreading by keeping your hands dry and clean, not picking the wart, covering cuts or wounds, and using separate nail clippers and files when cleaning your infected hand.
Learn more about skin conditions that affect older adults and how to treat skin tags.