Plantar warts are benign growths in the outermost layer of skin derived from the human papilloma virus (HPV). HPV happens to love warm, moist environments which explains why water parks and gym/shower floors are a common nidus for infection. They may take the appearance of a callus with the exception of the presence of tiny black dots, indicative of blood vessels. Whereas calluses form from areas of high pressure and friction, plantar warts spread through direct contact or can appear wherever the virus enters through breaks in our skin, typically our feet although there have been cases in the palms of our hands.
While plantar warts are generally harmless, their presence is an unwanted burden so understandably, most patients want them eradicated. Sometimes they may resolve on their own in a year or two without any treatment. I’ve heard of various home remedies including duct tape, apple cider vinegar, tea tree oil, garlic, and iodine. By the time the patient sees me, they will have tried and failed every home remedy and will ask what other options are available. It is possible that home remedies may treat plantar warts but may take months or even years to see results. For example, salicylic acid over-the-counter is effective in slowly peeling off the layers of skin overlying the wart but it may take months of daily applications of salicylic acid for the wart to completely resolve.
Considering that plantar warts are easily mistaken for calluses, I would first advise visiting a podiatrist for a definitive diagnosis. A podiatrist can treat plantar warts with a blistering agent or freezing cryotherapy treatment. The blister can be as painful as any blister can be but after removal, the wart is expunged from the affected layer of skin. This process collectively takes about 3 weeks of waiting for a blister to form, removing the blister, and waiting for the skin to heal. This process effectively saves you from months of applying salicylic acid daily to your feet.
Plantar warts are prone to recurrence so how do you prevent this pesky virus from ruining your life? My best advice is to never go around barefoot in communal areas including college dormitory/gym showers and water parks. This is the only time I allow my patients to wear $2 flimsy sandals from Old Navy. In addition, make sure to protect any cuts or breaks in the skin in the feet with a bandage and especially make sure any warts are covered up to prevent spreading them to others. I encourage seeking treatment as early as possible because plantar warts can easily spread in the same foot and even to the other foot quite rapidly.