What is a Verruca
Verrucas are easy enough to recognise – small, white circular patches of abnormally thick skin on the sole of the foot. Often, they have black spots at their centre, caused by clotted blood vessels. Normally, a verruca won’t cause problems, but if it’s on a weight-bearing part of the foot, it can be painful and a layer of hard skin is likely to form over it, making the problem worse. Because verrucas are caused by a viral infection (unlike a corn or callus, which is just layers of dead skin), they can easily spread to other parts of the foot, or form unsightly clusters called a mosaic verruca. One way to tell if you have a verruca from a corn or callus is to is to pinch it (gently!) – if it’s painful, it’s probably a verruca. Another telltale sign of a verruca is that the skin’s striae (lines) will become displaced around the affected area, rather like a knot in a piece of wood.
Will verrucas go away without treatment?
Yes, most verrucas will eventually disappear of their own accord. The key word here is ‘eventually’ – verrucas are notorious for being difficult to get rid of, and they can easily last for years, or even decades. To clear the condition more quickly, you’ll need to take action – we’ll look at the various options open to you later in this chapter.
Because nail infections take hold only gradually, many people take little notice at the start of the condition. And in the case of fingernails, where varnish is often worn, the person may not even realise that something is wrong. But if an infection gets hold, progression is relentless and will require intervention to eliminate it.
Normally, the first sign of an infection is a change of nail colour, from a healthy pink to a yellow or green shade, and the nail may become thick and flaky in appearance. It may even start to become detached from the nail bed.
Other giveaway signs of a nail infection are dark lines or discolouration extending from the tip to the base of the nail, and – in the case of toenails – reddened or dry skin around the nail, together with itichiness.
If you suspect that you have an infection, you should arrange an inspection [anchor to contact?] at our clinic as soon as possible. Unlike other clinics, which use the NHS service, we have our own laboratory, and – in rare cases – we will send a nail sample to our in-house lab to confirm diagnosis. But this is usually unnecessary as we can almost always detect an infection by visible symptoms.
What causes Verrucas?
Verrucas are caused by the same common virus that causes warts. In fact, a verruca is simply a wart on the foot. Although the virus that causes a verruca is the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), which is linked to cervical and penile cancer, it’s important to realise that there are over 100 different types of HPV, and the type of HPV that causes verrucas is not the same as the type that leads to cervical and penile cancer. When the verruca virus infects skin, it causes excessive production of a protein called keratin (which is also a key component of hair and nails), resulting in a hard and rough skin texture. Because HPV can have a very long incubation period (the time between contracting the virus and seeing the verruca), it’s not always easy to tell where you picked up the virus – which means that it’s very important to take precautionary measures at all times to prevent yourself from catching it. We’ll look at these measures later.
How are verrucas caught?
It’s not fully understood why some people get verrucas and others don’t – though we do know that verrucas are highly contagious. Communal areas where people often put bare feet in contact with the floor (such as showers or changing rooms) are typical of places where you can easily pick up the virus. All it takes is for someone with a verruca to walk barefoot across the floor, and the surface is then, almost certainly, contaminated with infected skin cells. Anyone who walks barefoot on this surface – especially if they have small cuts or abrasions on the sole of their feet, or if their skin is wet and macerated – is at high risk of picking up the virus. It’s also important not to share shoes, socks or towels with somebody who has a verruca, as cross infection can happen like this, too.
Prevention – much better than cure.
There are several simple precautions you can take to protect yourself from the verruca virus:
- When you’re in damp communal areas, make sure your feet are covered – flip flops are an inexpensive and effective precaution.
- Don’t share socks, shoes or towels with someone who has a verruca.
- Cover cuts and abrasions on your feet with a sticking plaster.
- Although some may feel embarrassed or self-conscious when wearing verruca (rubber) socks, they’re a great way to reduce the spread of infection – and great protection, too.
Reducing the risk of self-infection
If you have a verruca, it’s important to prevent it from spreading to other parts of your feet. You can minimise the risk of this by always doing the following:
- Always wear socks or stockings with footwear, to prevent it from becoming infected.
- If you must go barefoot then cover the verruca with a sticking plaster.
- Rinse flip flops after wearing them
- After using a pumice stone or emery board on a verruca, don’t use them on non-infected parts of the foot (as they will be carrying infected skin cells).
Try and avoid scratching, as this can cause the verruca to spread.