A verruca is simply a wart that is usually found on the soles of the feet, though they can also appear around the toes. In the early stages a verrucae looks like a small dark puncture mark, but later turns grey or brown. It may become rough and bumpy with a cauliflower like appearance, and may develop a black spot in the middle, which is caused by bleeding. Verrucae can grow up to half an inch in diameter and mat spread into a cluster of small warts.
Verrucae are caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). This virus is very contagious and thrives in warm moist environments, such as swimming pools, changing rooms and bathrooms. If an infected foot walks along the poolside, it may release virus-infected cells onto the floor. If you then walk on the same floor you can pick the virus up, especially if you have any small, even invisible cuts or abrasion’s that make it easier for the virus to penetrate. You can also catch the virus from an infected towel.
They are harmless. However, they can cause a sharp, burning pain if you get one on a weight-bearing area such as the ball of the foot or the heel. Because you are constantly pressing on the area when walking they can protrude into the skin and become more painful.
When you have a verrucae on a non-weight bearing area (i.e.; the top of a toe), they protrude above skin level and tend to be more fleshy, and less painful.
Who gets them? They tend to be common amongst children. For unknown reasons some people tend to be more susceptible to the virus, where others are immune.
What’s the difference between a corn and a Verruca? A Verruca is a viral infection. Whereas a corn or callus are simply layers of dead skin. Verrucae tend to be painful to touch, but if you are unsure your Podiatrist will know.
What can I do? Minimise your chances of catching a Verruca by keeping your feet clean and dry, and covering any cuts or scratches. Avoid walking barefoot in any communal showers or changing rooms (wear flip-flops), and don’t share towels. Verruca socks should be worn when swimming to avoid passing on the virus, the socks can also be worn as a preventative measure.
If a Verruca does appear, avoid touching or scratching it, as it may spread into a cluster of several warts. Instead cover it with a plaster. In some cases this may cure it!
Do not self-treat if you have Diabetes or circulatory problems. However, if you are fit and healthy, it’s fine to treat yourself with over-the-counter gels and ointments – follow the instructions carefully. If at any stage the verruca becomes painful or the surrounding tissue goes red, stop treatment immediately and see a Podiatrist. If you damage the healthy tissue you could hamper further treatment.
What can a Podiatrist do? Because verrucae often disappear in time (fought off by your immune system), the general advice is to only treat if they are spreading or painful. Verrucae generally resolve spontaneously within 6 months in children, but in adults they can persist for years. If yours is causing pain, there are a number of treatment options available – though no one particular treatment can guarantee a cure.
Acid application This may be needed to be applied at weekly intervals over a set period of time to disintegrate the viral cells.
Cryotherapy This involves freezing the wart tissue with liquid nitrogen or nitrous oxide gas. This needs to be done every 2-3 weeks for a few months. However, it can lead to soreness and blistering in some people. It is not advised for sensitive or anxious children.
Needling This minor operation is only recommended for adults and for verrucae that have been present for 2 years plus.