Your Health A-Z

Plantar warts, an HPV infection common in the feet

They might be slightly irritating and painful but the good news is plantar warts are relatively harmless. There are, however, steps you can take to eradicate them.

Is your child complaining that they feel as if they have a permanent stone in their shoe? He might be suffering from the indignity of a plantar wart. Named because they form on the plantar surface (soles) of your feet, these warts are particularly common in children, people with weakened immune systems and the elderly. Also known as verrucas, they are benign – and are caused by particular strains the human papilloma virus (HPV) that invades the skin through tiny cuts and scrapes.

‘Like other viral infections, plantar warts are contagious and are commonly spread in moist, humid areas like public swimming pools and communal showers,’ says Dr Muhammed-Ameen Moosa, a dermatologist at Mediclinic Limpopo. ‘Children are particularly susceptible because they are likely to have more cuts and scrapes than most adults.’

It can form as a single wart or as a cluster (mosaic) and may present with black pinpoints that are actually small, clotted blood vessels. ‘Most plantar warts aren’t a serious health concern and usually disappear within two years without treatment,’ says Dr Moosa. However, they can become embarrassing and painful, in which case you can consider at-home treatment or a visit to your doctor.

Over-the-counter treatments include salicylic acid paints and gels that remove the outer dead layers of skin and trigger the immune system into clearing the virus. Before applying the acid, you’ll need to soak your child’s feet in warm water before sloughing off the thickened skin with a pumic stone. Salicylic acid must be applied before bedtime (for about twelve weeks) directly to the plantar wart – and not the surrounding areas.

‘Don’t ever try to physically remove a wart yourself as you may cause further infection and injury,’ Dr Moosa warns. And remember it is not uncommon for plantar warts to reappear. Medical treatment options include freezing the wart with liquid nitrogen, which can be painful and may require several sessions before it is effective. ‘Topical treatment would include using irritants such as cantharidin and formaldehyde and immunomodulators such as imiquimod or 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) cream. If all else fails, surgical exision or cautery and curettage may be needed.’

HPV thrives in warm and humid environments such as steam rooms and showers.

Encourage your children to wear slip-slops or similar when using public swimming pools or showers.

If you already have the condition

  • Change your shoes and socks daily.
  • Keeps the wart covered and wash your hands frequently to prevent spreading the virus that causes them.
  • Keep your clothing and towels separate from others in the house.
  • Seek help from a doctor if you’re unsure of what you may have.

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.