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Warts on fingers: why are you getting them?

Beautiful shot of Red lady bug creeping on hand
Warts can pop up anywhere on the body but are most common on the hands and feet. In this post we focus on what causes warts on fingers.

Summary

1What are warts?

Warts appear in the form of small bumps on the skin. They can be itchy and painful, but they aren’t harmful.

2What causes warts on fingers?

Warts are viral growths triggered by contact with the human papilloma virus (HPV).

3Types of wart

There are more than 100 varieties of the HPV virus, with a small number responsible for the infection that leads warts to form.

Warts on fingers are harmless. They’re also very common. Right now, about 10 percent of people in the UK probably have a wart on some part of their anatomy.1 And they’re particularly common in those under the age of 20 – almost 1 in 3 children and young people suffering with these annoying growths.2 Although this is generally reassuring, it doesn't make it any less annoying when we look down at our hand and see a wart has appeared seemingly out of nowhere. 

Warts can pop up anywhere on the body but are most common on the hands and feet. In this post we focus on warts on fingers.

What are warts?

Warts appear in the form of small bumps on the skin. They can be itchy and painful, but they aren’t harmful. However, warts can be annoying and, for some people, a source of embarrassment.

Recognising the start of wart on finger

  • A wart is a firm and rough lump on the skin3 
  • They are often skin coloured 
  • If you have a darker complexion, they may be darker than your skin 
  • Sometimes one appears on its own, other times you may get them in clusters 
  • The shape and size of warts vary. They range in size from 1mm to 1cm plus4 
  • You may spot tiny black or brownish dots on a wart. These are tiny blood clots that appear when blood leaks from the capillaries in the skin5

What causes warts on fingers?

Warts are viral growths triggered by contact with the human papilloma virus (HPV). It’s a common family of viruses that tend to affect the skin and moist membranes of the body. But not everyone who comes into contact with HPV will develop warts. This is because each individual’s immune system reacts to the viruses differently.
How do you contract HPV? Small cuts often provide the entrance point into the skin for the wart virus. So, for warts on fingers, hangnails (dry, hanging bits of skin around the cuticles) are a common access point for infection. You can also spread the virus to your fingertips and around your nails by biting your fingernails.

So the virus is in, what next? It depends on how your immune system responds, but for the people who end up with a wart, the virus triggers extra cell growth. This causes the outer layer of skin to get thicker and harder. As this builds up, it forms the raised bumps that are typical of most types of wart.

Types of wart

There are more than 100 varieties of the HPV virus, with a small number responsible for the infection that leads warts to form.6 Depending on the strain of the virus you get, the symptoms, location, and appearance of any warts will differ. For example, common warts can develop anywhere on the body, but you’ll usually find them on the hands and fingers. But plantar warts (otherwise known as verrucas) usually grow on the feet only.
So, what type of wart do you most often find on fingers? There are five main types of warts on fingers – common warts, flat warts, butchers’ warts, palmar warts and periungual warts.

Wart on fingernail?

Under and around your fingernails, you’re most likely to find periungual warts.7 They most commonly affect children and young adults, and nail biters are at an increased risk from under nail growths.8 They start small but can change the shape of the nail as they grow.
 

Flat wart on finger?

Is the wart on your finger small, slightly raised, flesh coloured or brownish-yellow, with a smooth, flat top? It could well be a flat (or plane) wart.9 This type of wart is most common in children and young adults and they tend to appear in large numbers. Flat warts are most often found on the face, but hands are sometimes affected too.10
 

And what about common warts?

Common warts are the most widespread variant of warts on fingers. Sometimes these skin growths can be as small as a pinhead, but they can also grow to pea-size. They often appear on the back of the hands, the fingers, and the skin around the nails. This type of wart hardens and feels rough to the touch.
 

Are some people at greater risk of getting warts?

In simple terms, you’re more likely to develop warts for two reasons. Firstly, if you are in frequent contact with the viruses that cause them. And secondly, if your body for some reason isn't able to fight them off. For these reasons, the following groups are more at risk11:

  • People who have frequent contact with the virus due to family members having warts 
  • School children may be more exposed to the virus if a number of their classmates have warts 
  • Children and teenagers find themselves heavily exposed to the virus if they frequently use communal showers (for example, after playing sport or swimming) 
  • People who have a weakened immune system due to a medical condition or treatment might find it harder to fight off the virus 
  • Suffering with atopic diseases such as eczema can make you more susceptible to getting warts

Do warts go away on their own?

Once infected, it’s likely your immune system will kickstart a process to naturally clear the wart. This usually happens even without treatment. How long this process takes to complete varies from person to person. It could be weeks or months. But for some people, it takes as long as two years for the virus to leave their body allowing the wart to disappear.12 

So, you don’t necessarily need to seek out a treatment. But, if the warts on your hands are persistent, recurring or cause you pain or irritation, your GP or pharmacist can suggest a wart on finger treatment that could help to clear up the infection quicker.

Are warts on hands contagious?

Yes. Warts can be spread by skin-to-skin contact and also via contaminated surfaces. Although the risk of passing them on to others is relatively low, you can in theory catch them from shaking hands with someone with a wart.13

It’s virtually impossible to completely avoid warts – at some point most people experience them. However, you can do certain things to reduce the chance of you spreading your warts further (to other people or other parts of your body.)

To avoid passing on the infection to others… 

  • After touching a wart, wash your hands14 
  • Cover warts with a waterproof plaster when swimming
  • Avoid sharing towels 

To avoid spreading warts to other areas of your body… 

  • Don't suck fingers that have warts or bite your nails15 
  • Don't pick or scratch them.

Can stress cause warts?

Stress won’t itself cause warts – that’s down to the HPV virus. However, when you’re under stress, your immune system's ability to fight off antigens can decrease.16 So, it could be implied that you’re more susceptible to infections, such as HPV, if your body is feeling the effects of stress.

What should I do if I find a wart on my finger?

To summarise, warts are harmless. There’s no need to feel concerned and it’s likely they will clear up on their own without treatment. However, that’s not to say a wart can’t be incredibly annoying, especially if it lingers for long periods and the infection starts to spread elsewhere. If this is the case, you may choose to seek treatment. A doctor will be able to diagnose warts through a simple physical examination and recommend the right course of action.

Last updated: 8 April 2021

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