A verruca usually occurs on feet and toes and can be uncomfortable and painful. They easily spread to other people so need to be covered up and can be treated.
What is a verruca?
A verruca is a wart on the foot caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV). They commonly occur on the soles of the feet and toes. Verruca can be contagious and transmitted through direct person-to-person contact. They tend to be common in children, teenagers, young adults and people who use communal changing rooms.
How do you get a verruca?
When the skin gets very wet it loses its suppleness and flexibility which can cause tiny cracks and splits to occur. These breaks in the skin make it easier for the verruca virus to penetrate the skin. This happens through direct skin to skin contact or indirect contact with contaminated surfaces. The verruca virus thrives in warm moist environments such as swimming pools, changing rooms and bathrooms.
Are they harmful?
Verruca are harmless but can be uncomfortable and painful if they develop on weight bearing areas such as the feet. In addition, hard skin (callus) can form over the top of the verruca which can increase discomfort to the area.
What treatments are available?
There are no guaranteed treatments to remove verruca. In many cases verruca will spontaneously resolve on their own within 6 to 12 months for children but longer for adults (up to two years). When the body’s immune system recognises the presence of the virus it automatically fights the infection.
If verruca are painless no treatment is best, as some treatments can cause pain, especially in children.
For painful and spreading verruca you can treat yourself using over-the-counter treatments, but do not self-treat if you are diabetic or immunosuppressed (low immunity). Please see a podiatrist for treatment options and advice.
Most over-the-counter treatments (such as bazuka™) contain salicylic acid as their active ingredient. Salicylic acid and other verruca treatments can also destroy healthy skin tissue. So it is important to protect the skin around the verruca. Apply the medication following the instructions provided on the packaging, but discontinue use if the skin becomes sore. Sometimes rubbing down the hard skin overlying the verruca with an emery board can ease discomfort and help with stimulating the body’s immune response.
How do I prevent them?
What to do
- Wash and dry your feet regularly and treat them with surgical spirit. If feet are dry, use cream but avoid applying in-between toes.
- Change your socks every day.
- Wear flip-flops in communal showers or changing rooms.
- If you have a verruca and want to go swimming or use communal areas, make sure you cover it with a waterproof sterile plaster to avoid spreading the virus.
- If you have cuts or scratches on your feet, keep them covered in communal areas.
- Wash your hands after touching verruca to prevent them from spreading.
- Speak to a health professional or registered podiatrist if you have any concerns.
- If you have children, check their feet for verruca.
What not to do
- Do not share shoes, socks or towels.
- Avoid direct contact with a verruca on other people.
- Avoid going barefoot in public places if you have a verruca.
- Do not pick at your verruca. When you file your verruca down, dispose of the dead skin carefully. The sand paper or emery board will also have the living virus on it, so do not use it for any other purpose, or you may spread the virus.
- Do not use occlusion (strapping).
- Avoid damaging the surrounding skin when filing, as this might result in the verruca spreading.
What other treatments are available?
There are more invasive treatment options for treating verruca such as cryotherapy, needling and Swift therapy. Discuss with a registered podiatrist what treatment might be right for you.
Useful sources of information
British Association of Dermatologists
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence
Ref number: 5102/VER1
Date published: November 2020 | Review date: November 2023
© 2020 Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust
A list of sources is available on request