Dear Dr. Burk:
I have these ugly looking warts on the bottom of my feet and toes. My feet really hurt when I walk. I went to my dermatologist before and he froze the warts with liquid nitrogen. They fell off after a few days but keep coming back. There are also calluses and painful blisters on the bottom of my feet. What can I do about these problems?
Mark H, Caldwell, ID
The type of warts you are dealing with are called plantar warts, and they can be tricky to get rid of. Plantar warts are caused by the human papillomavirus, which the body will usually rid itself of within two years of infection. An estimated 75 percent of men and women will get HPV at some point in their life. This is not a serious infection and shouldn’t be a cause for alarm.
Calluses, on the other hand, are caused by repeated friction against the skin, so be sure that you are wearing comfortably fitting shoes. If you see any black dots inside the calluses, that means a wart has grown inwards beneath this thick layer of skin. Here are a couple of treatments that you can try at home to best manage the plantar warts until your immune system kills off the HPV.
- Use an over-the-counter medication. These treatments are generally available as a liquid, gel, pad, or ointment. Any medication found in drug stores that is used to treat plantar warts should contain salicylic acid, which helps dissolve the outer layer of the skin causing the wart to gradually peel off. After applying a topical medication, the area can then be covered with a small piece of duct tape, aiding penetration of the product into the skin.
- Apply tea tree oil mixed with a carrier oil. Tea tree oil is a great topical antiseptic typically used for all types of skin problems. However, it should not be applied directly to the skin without a carrier oil. Mix 3 drops of tea tree oil with a tablespoon of coconut oil, almond oil, or olive oil. Apply a small amount of this mixture twice per day to the plantar warts.
- You can also soak your feet in warm water for 5 minutes, and then apply a salicylic acid treatment. Salicylic acid is found in some over the counter products including Compound W, Freezone, Scholl’s Wart Remover, and Wart-Off. Use of one of these products removes excess keratin over time, causing the wart to slowly peel off. Be sure to follow the package directions and remove any loose skin after application with a washcloth.
While your body is doing its best to get rid of the plantar warts, here are some steps that you can take to prevent getting re-infected.
- Avoid touching the warts except when applying a treatment. Never scratch or pick at the warts. Wash your hands before and after touching a wart.
- Avoid the use of public showers.
- Keep your feet clean and dry.
- Change your socks daily and alternate the pairs of shoes that you wear.
- Avoid walking barefoot except on sandy beaches.
Try using one of or more of the above at home treatments to manage your plantar warts. If you don’t see any improvement after 3 weeks and are still having blisters or pain when walking, please contact my office for an appointment. We have several ways that we can treat plantar warts including laser treatments and topical medication.