Warts are benign (non-cancerous) skin growths caused by infection with one of over 100 types of human papillomavirus (HPV). They typically appear as small, rough bumps that may resemble a cauliflower and range in color from flesh colored to brown or black. Warts can develop anywhere on the body but are most commonly found on hands and feet. Many warts resolve spontaneously, while others may persist for years. The lifespan of an individual wart depends on several factors.
What is the average lifespan of a wart?
On average, a wart will last between 1-2 years before going away on its own. However, some data suggests that up to two-thirds of warts may disappear within the first 2 years. The duration a wart persists can vary significantly based on the individual and type of wart.
Here are some general timelines for how long warts typically last:
- Common warts – 12 months
- Plantar warts – 2 years
- Flat warts – 8 months
- Palmar/hand warts – 18 months
- Face/oral warts – 6 months
- Genital warts – 6 months to several years
While these timeframes represent averages, it’s important to note that some warts may stick around for much longer. Factors like location, type of HPV, and a person’s immunity can all affect the lifespan of an individual wart.
What factors affect how long warts last?
The duration that a wart persists is influenced by several key factors:
Type of wart
The type of HPV causing the wart impacts its lifespan. Warts on the hands and feet tend to persist longer than warts in other areas. For example:
- Common warts on hands and fingers tend to last longer than facial or flat warts.
- Plantar warts on the soles of the feet often persist for many years due to pressure from walking.
- Genital warts can last varying lengths of time depending on strain of HPV.
Where the wart has developed affects how long it sticks around. Pressure and friction can cause certain types of warts to persist longer:
- Plantar warts on feet may persist for years due to pressure from walking.
- Warts under fingernails resistant to treatment due to location.
- Facial warts tend to clear more quickly than hand/foot warts.
Number of warts
People with a larger number of warts tend to have them persist longer than just a solitary wart.
Younger children’s immune systems often clear warts more effectively than older children and adults.
- 65% of warts in children under 12 resolve within 2 years.
- Only 30% of warts in adults over 18 resolve in 2 years.
Individuals with weakened immune systems due to medication or illness often have warts that are stubborn and long-lasting.
The specific type of HPV causing the wart also impacts its duration. For example:
- HPV types 2 and 4 associated with common warts that persist longer.
- HPV types 6 and 11 linked to genital warts that clear more quickly.
Treating warts with medications, procedures like cryotherapy, or home remedies can shorten their lifespan.
Even with treatment, warts may come back. Recurrent warts tend to last longer with each reoccurrence.
When do most warts disappear?
On average, untreated warts tend to disappear within 1-2 years. Some studies have looked at the rate of spontaneous resolution over time:
As shown, the majority of warts resolve within the first year. However, different types of warts may disappear faster or slower than these averages.
Can warts last for life?
While most warts eventually go away on their own, some may persist for many years or indefinitely. Factors causing warts to potentially last a lifetime include:
- Location – Plantar and periungual warts on feet/hands are more likely to persist.
- Reoccurrence – Even if treated, warts may continue to return.
- Immune suppression – Illness or medication weakening the immune system.
- HPV strain – Certain strains may trigger longer-lasting warts.
- Genetics – Family history of warts that persist despite treatment.
Individuals with warts lasting for over 2 years without improvement may be at risk of them becoming chronic or lifelong. Seeking treatment can help clear stubborn, long-lasting warts.
Treatments to get rid of persistent warts
Several medical and home treatment options can help get rid of stubborn warts that stick around longer than normal:
Medications like imiquimod, retinoids, and cantharidin help clear warts by causing skin irritation and stimulating an immune reaction.
Freezing warts with liquid nitrogen is one of the most common and effective in-office wart treatments. It works by damaging the tissue so the wart falls off.
A laser beam is used to destroy the wart tissue and stimulate healing. Effective for stubborn plantar and genital warts.
Over-the-counter products containing salicylic acid can remove layers of thick, dead skin until the wart is gone. Slow but effective.
A topical blistering agent applied by a dermatologist that causes wart tissue to separate from healthy skin as the blister heals.
Duct tape occlusion
Covering the wart with duct tape may help boost the immune response and make warts less resilient.
Garlic, coconut oil, apple cider vinegar, and essential oils may help clear warts, but evidence is limited.
When to see a dermatologist for warts
Make an appointment with a dermatologist if:
- Warts persist for more than 2 years
- Warts are widespread
- Warts are painful or interfering with function
- Over-the-counter treatments ineffective after 3-6 months
- Warts keep coming back after treatment
- Immune system unable to clear HPV infection
A dermatologist can provide prescription treatment options for stubborn warts. Getting them treated can prevent warts from lasting for life.
On average, most untreated warts resolve on their own within 1-2 years. However, certain types of warts like plantar warts often persist longer, sometimes for life. Factors like location, strain of HPV, and a person’s immunity determine the lifespan of an individual wart. Seeking treatment for warts lasting longer than 2 years can help clear them.