Plantar warts are hard, grainy growths that usually appear on the heels or balls of your feet, areas that feel the most pressure. This pressure also may cause plantar warts to grow inward beneath a hard, thick layer of skin (callus).
Plantar warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). The virus enters your body through tiny cuts, breaks or other weak spots on the bottom of your feet.
Most plantar warts aren’t a serious health concern and may not require treatment. But plantar warts can cause discomfort or pain. If self-care treatments for plantar warts don’t work, you may want to see your doctor about the following treatments.
- 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. They may also stimulate your immune system’s ability to fight the wart.
Your doctor will likely suggest you apply the medicine regularly at home, followed by occasional visits to the doctor’s office. Your doctor may pare away part of the wart or use freezing treatment (cryotherapy). Studies show that salicylic acid is more effective when combined with freezing.
- Freezing medicine (cryotherapy). Freezing therapy done at a doctor’s office involves applying liquid nitrogen to your wart, either with a spray or a cotton swab. Your doctor may numb the area first because it can be painful when the liquid nitrogen is applied.
The chemical causes a blister to form around your wart, and the dead tissue sloughs off within a week or so. It may also stimulate your immune system to fight viral warts. Usually, you’ll return to the doctor’s office for repeat treatments every three to four weeks until the wart disappears.
Some studies show that this treatment is more effective when combined with salicylic acid treatments.
Surgical or other procedures
If salicylic acid and freezing don’t work, your doctor may recommend one or more of the following treatments:
- Other acids. Your doctor shaves the surface of the wart and applies bichloracetic acid or trichloroacetic with a wooden toothpick. You’ll need to return to the doctor’s office for repeat treatments every week or so. Side effects include burning and stinging. Between visits, you may be asked to apply salicylic acid to the wart.
- Immune therapy. This method uses medications or solutions to stimulate your immune system to fight viral warts. Your doctor may inject your warts with a foreign substance (antigen) or apply a solution or cream to the warts.
- Minor surgery. Your doctor cuts away the wart or destroys it by using an electric needle (electrodesiccation and curettage). This procedure can be painful, so your doctor will numb your skin first. Because surgery can cause scarring, this method usually isn’t used to treat plantar warts.
- Laser treatment. Pulsed-dye laser treatment burns closed (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.
- Vaccine. Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine has been used with success to treat warts.