Do you have small lumps on your hands that have a rough surface? These are known as cutaneous warts. They are common and usually harmless.
Cutaneous warts are small, non-cancerous lumps on the skin caused by an infection with human papillomavirus (HPV). Warts often develop on the skin of your hands or feet. This is because s an excess amount of keratin, a protein causes the virus to build up in the top layer of skin called the epidermis. This extra keratin causes the rough, hard texture of a wart. Many people get warts in their life time, but they usually affect children and teenagers more than adults.1
Warts on the hands usually go away on their own but may take months or even years. This article will outline the symptoms, causes and risk factors of warts on hand and possible wart treatment options.1
Symptoms of warts on hands include:2
- A small, rough lump on the skin
- Skin-coloured lump – may appear darker on darker skin
- A cluster of warts spread over an area of skin
- A dome-shaped lump
Warts on hands are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), a common virus of more than 150 types. The main types of HPV responsible for common warts are HPV-2, HPV-4, HPV-26 and HPV-29. Common warts are rough, non-cancerous lumps grown on the skin surface of the hands but can also grow in other areas of the body. The other types of warts include
- Plantar warts that occur mainly on the soles of the feet7
- Flat warts that appear on the face
- Genital warts appear in the genital area
- butcher warts on the hands and fingers3
Most forms of HPV are spread by casual skin contact or through shared objects such as washcloths or towels. A wart on your hand can spread from person to person through4
- Direct contact
- Touching something contaminated with the virus e.g. - towels, doorknobs and shower floors
- Nail biting and skin picking
Some people have a higher risk of developing warts on their hands than others.
- Children and young adults
- People with weakened immune systems e.g. - people with HIV/AIDS or people who have had organ transplants
Children and teenagers are more prone to warts developing on their hands because their bodies may not have built up immunity to HPV. Also, children are more likely to get lots of cuts on their hands and therefore are more likely to get infected with HPV. Studies show that up to 30% of children and young adults may have warts. Incidence increases during the school years and peaks in the teenage years.6
Is it possible to prevent warts on hands?
Warts can be contagious and are often caught by close skin-to-skin contact or indirectly through contaminated areas or surfaces, such as the area surrounding a swimming pool. You are more likely to get infected if your skin is wet or damaged. However, it can take some weeks or months for a wart to appear on your hand.5
- Avoiding direct contact with warts, including your own warts
- Do not pick at warts, as this can cause them to spread
- Do not bite your fingernails – warts often form in broken skin
- Do not use the same emery board, nail clipper or pumice stone on your warts as you do on healthy skin/nails
Treatment and home remedies
Although treatment is an option, most warts on your hands are harmless and clear up by themselves. However, the time it takes to disappear varies from person to person. It can take up years for the viral infection to leave your body.
You may want to treat a wart on your hand if it is painful or causing discomfort or embarrassment. Possible wart treatment options include:5
- Cryotherapy – freezing the skin cells of the wart so it falls off a few weeks later. This may require repeat treatments
- Stronger peeling medicine – wart medications with salicylic acid that work by removing layers of the wart a little at a time. This is more effective when combined with cryotherapy
- Minor surgery – wart removal by cutting away the bothersome tissue. This may leave a scar
- Laser treatment – the light from the laser burns the tiny blood vessels, which causes the infected tissue to die and the wart to fall off
- Other acids – the wart surface is shaved and an acid (e.g. trichloroacetic acid) is applied on top
- Duct tape – cover the wart with duct tape for 6 days. Then remove the tape and soak the wart in water and gently remove dead skin with a pumice stone or emery board. Replace the duct tape and repeat until the wart is gone
- Topical vitamin A – studies show that vitamin A disrupts HPV replication and allows normal tissue to replace the wart
- Aloe vera gel – soothes itchy or painful warts
- Peeling medicine – wart removal products such as salicylic acid are effective at removing common warts. They can be used daily, usually for a few weeks. It is advised to use a 17% salicylic acid solution for common warts
How do people get warts on their hands?
Warts on hands are caused by HPV infection which is acquired through direct contact with a wart or indirectly through contaminated surfaces or areas such as towels or swimming pools.4
Why do some people get a lot of warts and others don’t?
Certain people have a higher chance of contracting HPV and developing warts than others. For example, warts are more common in children and teenagers than in older adults. This may be because young people are not yet immune to the virus. Also, people with weakened immune systems or people who have had an organ transplant are more likely to develop warts.5
How long do warts last?
Warts on your hands can take up to months and even years to disappear. However, with treatment, they can go away quicker.1
What can I do to feel better?
If you have a wart on your hand that is painful or causing discomfort or embarrassment, there are multiple methods of treatment available for you. This includes cryotherapy, peeling medicine, laser treatment, duct tape and vitamin A.5
When to call a doctor?
Cutaneous warts are harmless and do not usually have serious complications such as skin cancer. However, you should contact your GP if:1
- Your wart is bleeding
- Your wart has changed in appearance
- You have a very large or painful wart
- Your wart is spreading or keeps coming back
Cutaneous warts are rough lumps found on the skin caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. They can appear anywhere on the skin but are most commonly found on the hands and feet. Other types of warts include genital warts of the genital area, plantar warts of the foot, flat warts, periungual warts, palmar warts and filiform warts. Cutaneous warts are contagious and can be spread through direct contact with a wart or indirect contact, such as through contaminated surfaces and areas. These skin warts are non-cancerous but can be painful or cause embarrassment or discomfort. Wart treatment options include cryotherapy (freezing), stronger peeling medicine, minor surgery and laser treatment. There are also home remedies which include duct tape, peeling medicine, vitamin A and aloe vera. Skin warts on hands are usually harmless and often clear up on their own but you should contact your GP if your wart is bleeding, has changed in appearance, is very large or painful or it keeps spreading and coming back.
- Warts [Internet]. [cited 2023 Feb 10]. Available from: https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/skin-hair-and-nails/warts-and-verrucas
- Warts and verrucas [Internet]. NHS. UK. 2017 [cited 2023 Feb 10]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/warts-and-verrucas/
- Gaston A, Garry RF. Topical vitamin A treatment of recalcitrant common warts. Virology Journal [Internet]. 2012 Jan 17 [cited 2023 Feb 10];9(1):21. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1186/1743-422X-9-21
- Warts: HPV, causes, types, treatments, removal, prevention [Internet]. Cleveland Clinic. [cited 2023 Feb 10]. Available from: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15045-warts
- Common warts - Symptoms and causes [Internet]. Mayo Clinic. [cited 2023 Feb 10]. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/common-warts/symptoms-causes/syc-20371125
- CKS is only available in the UK [Internet]. NICE. [cited 2023 Feb 10]. Available from: https://www.nice.org.uk/cks-uk-only
- Witchey, Dexter Jordan, et al. ‘Plantar Warts: Epidemiology, Pathophysiology, and Clinical Management’. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, vol. 118, no. 2, Feb. 2018, pp. 92–105. PubMed. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29379975/