Most common warts go away without treatment, though it may take a year or two and new ones may develop nearby. Some people choose to have their warts treated by a doctor because home treatment isn't working and the warts are bothersome, spreading or a cosmetic concern.
The goals of treatment are to destroy the wart, stimulate an immune system response to fight the virus, or both. Treatment may take weeks or months. Even with treatment, warts tend to recur or spread. Doctors generally start with the least painful methods, especially when treating young children.
Your doctor may suggest one of the following approaches, based on the location of your warts, your symptoms and your preferences. These methods are sometimes used in combination with home treatments, such as salicylic acid.
- 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. Studies show that salicylic acid is more effective when combined with freezing.
Freezing (cryotherapy). Freezing therapy done at a doctor's office involves applying liquid nitrogen to your wart. Freezing works by causing a blister to form under and around your wart. Then, the dead tissue sloughs off within a week or so. This method may also stimulate your immune system to fight viral warts. You'll likely need repeat treatments.
Side effects of cryotherapy include pain, blistering and discolored skin in the treated area. Because this technique can be painful, it is usually not used to treat the warts of young children.
- Other acids. If salicylic acid or freezing isn't working, your doctor may try trichloroacetic acid. With this method, the doctor first shaves the surface of the wart and then applies the acid with a wooden toothpick. It requires repeat treatments every week or so. Side effects are burning and stinging.
- Minor surgery. Your doctor can cut away the bothersome tissue. It may leave a scar in the treated area.
- Laser treatment. Pulsed-dye laser treatment burns (cauterizes) tiny blood vessels. The infected tissue eventually dies, and the wart falls off. The evidence for the effectiveness of this method is limited, and it can cause pain and scarring.