Verrucae — Leave Them Be or Help Them Leave?

Do you remember those delightful school days, back in the changing rooms after a gym or swimming class, where one of the kids would scream in disgust,“Euw… you’ve got a verruca” at whichever poor child had just discovered the tell-tale signs on their foot? Someone’s mum would always be super-protective and send their little darling to school with verruca socks on, and luck would usually have it that it was their child who ended up with a crop of them anyway.

Despite the childish disgust, verrucae are harmless, and extremely common, just another ailment. Statistics show that as of 2019, 10% of the UK population have had either warts or verrucae, and in school-aged children, it’s estimated that 10% to 20% will be affected at some point; the optimum age to get them is 12–16 years old. Both are more common among immunosuppressed people and strangely, warts also affect meat handlers disproportionately!

Although they are far more common in children, verrucae can affect feet of all ages, so it’s always good to know how to treat them, whether you have small people in need of verruca first aid, or you’re dealing with a stubborn example yourself.

It’s not a myth that verrucae are another type of wart, closely related to the warts that appear on your hands. They show up on the soles of the feet, rather than on the hands, and are caused by an extremely contagious virus, the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). Warts and verrucae are actually the most common viral infection of the skin. Verrucae spread in warm, damp areas, either via contact with an infected person or through sharing surfaces in places like changing rooms, swimming pools or gyms.

Not everyone will catch a verruca — if you have any cuts or grazes on your feet you’re more likely to get them, and the reason they can be so virulent at public swimming pools is that soaking skin in water can open up the pores, leaving tiny micro ports for the virus to gain entry.

Verrucae are harmless and will often go away without intervention. According to the British Skin Foundation, around 65% of warts and verrucae will simply disappear by themselves. Unlike warts, however, verrucae can be painful just because they are on the soles of your feet, and there’s constant weight-bearing pressure on them. For this reason, while many people leave warts alone to run their course, verrucae can be easily treated with over the counter products, or by a foot practitioner if they are causing a problem.

How to treat verrucae

You can buy over-the-counter treatments such as creams, plasters and sprays from pharmacies. These treatments can take up to three months to work, although if the advice is followed they’ll usually work eventually — don’t give up halfway just because there’s been no improvement. The self-treatment route can be time consuming and frustrating but is probably also cheaper than professional foot care. Some of the chemicals in the verruca removal products may irritate your skin and in some cases, they might even be ineffective.

Verrucae will clear up faster with help from a podiatrist, and if you or your child’s verruca is very painful, or seems to be spreading, it’s worth seeking expert advice and treatment rather than leaving it to its own devices or trying to self-treat.

What to do if you or your child has a verruca

Current advice from the British Association of Dermatologists is:

  • Wear comfortable shoes and do not share your shoes or socks with anyone else. Special pads to relieve pressure on plantar warts can be bought at a chemist.
  • Keep your feet clean and dry. Change your shoes and socks daily.
  • Do not go barefoot in public places. Plantar warts should be covered with waterproof plasters or rubber ‘verruca socks’ if you go swimming.
  • When treating the wart, dispose of any skin filings hygienically and do not use the emery board or hard skin removal tools elsewhere as this could spread the infection.
  • Apply topical treatment regularly to get the maximum chance of cure.
  • To avoid spreading viral warts to other parts of the skin (autoinoculation) do not pick or scratch plantar warts.
  • Do not use same pumice stone, nail file and or nail clippers for your warts and your healthy skin and nails.

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