What is it?
Verrucae are plantar warts that commonly occur on the soles of the feet or around the toe area. They are caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) which is highly contagious through direct person to person contact. There are various forms of HPV which all relate to various parts of the human body.
What causes the problem?
The virus is thought to thrive in moist, damp environments such as swimming pools, changing room floors and communal shower areas. It is possible to contract verrucae simply by walking across the same floor area as someone with a verruca, especially if you have any small or invisible cuts or abrasions that make it easier for the virus to penetrate.
Is it serious?
Verrucae are harmless but can be uncomfortable and painful if they develop on a weight bearing part of the foot. In addition, callus can form over the top of the verruca increasing the discomfort in this area. There are also some strains of the virus that spread very quickly and can look unsightly.
Who gets it?
Verrucae are most commonly seen in children, teenagers and young adults, largely those who use communal changing rooms. It is possible to develop an immunity against the virus over time but most people remain susceptible, although some more than others.
How do I know I have it?
The most common appearance is that of a small cauliflower type growth on the soles of your feet with tiny black dots. If when you pinch the area (like when you squeeze a spot) it is painful, you are likely to have a verruca. They can grow to half an inch in diameter and may spread into a cluster of small warts. If you are unsure, seek advice from your local pharmacist or visit a podiatrist.
How do I prevent it?
To avoid catching verrucae, keep your feel in a regular healthy condition. Always dry them thoroughly after washing and if your feet are sweaty, treat them with surgical spirit; if they are dry, moisturise them with suitable creams and lotions.
Other tips include wearing flip-flops in communal areas, not sharing towels, shoes and socks, and treating conditions such as Athlete’s Foot with specialist treatment from a pharmacist.
If you do have a verruca and want to go swimming, special verrucae socks should be worn to avoid passing on the virus and can also be worn generally as a preventative measure
What are the treatments?
In the first instance, avoid touching or scratching it as it may spread into a cluster of warts. Instead, cover it up with a plaster and this may cure it. In many cases, evidence suggests that verrucae will disappear of their own accord within six months for children but longer for adults (up to two years). This is because the body’s immune system recognises the presence of the virus and fights the infection naturally but it can take many months for this to happen. If it is painless, no treatment may be required as some treatments can be painful especially for children and can cause side-effects.
For painful and/or unsightly verrucae or ones which are spreading, you can self-treat using ointments and gels from your local pharmacist following the instructions carefully. Evidence suggests the most effective ones contain salicylic acid which when applied to the wart, helps to disintegrate the viral cells. Sometimes, merely by rubbing away the dry skin over a verrucae and applying a plaster helps to stimulate the body’s immune system to fight the infection. However, if your verruca becomes unusually painful or the surrounding skin area goes red, stop treatment immediately and see a podiatrist. This is because if the healthy tissue around a verruca is damaged, you could hamper further treatment
Treatments provided by a podiatrist involve an assessment of your general well-being and foot health before deciding on a treatment plan. These may include:
Acid based treatments which are stronger than regular ‘over the counter’ (OTC) treatments from your local pharmacy
Cryotherapy which involves freezing the verruca with liquid nitrogen or nitrous oxide gas.
Electrosurgery which requires a local anaesthetic to be given
Excisional surgery which is similar to the above
Laser surgery, particularly for larger areas of verrucae
When should I see a podiatrist about it?
If you are worried about your verrucae and/or self-treatment is not working and/or the verrucae appears to be getting larger or more painful, you should seek the help of a HCPC registered podiatrist. Additionally, if you have diabetes, poor circulation, are pregnant or any other condition affecting your feet (or your immune system), it is important never to treat verrucae yourself and visit a podiatrist instead.
If you experience any foot care issues which do not resolve themselves naturally or through routine foot care within three weeks, it is recommended to seek the help of a healthcare professional such as your GP to refer you to your local NHS trust for free treatment but if you do not qualify for this, or you would prefer you should contact a private podiatrist.
To talk to a podiatrist (also known as a chiropodist) about the options available regarding treatment, you can contact an NHS podiatrist or a private practice podiatrist. In both cases, always ensure that any practitioners you visit are registered with the Health and Care Professionals Council (HCPC) and describe themselves as a podiatrist (or chiropodist).