What are filiform warts?

Filiform warts look different than most warts. They have long, narrow projections that extend about 1-2 millimeters from the skin. They can be yellow, brown, pink, or skin-toned, and don’t generally form in clusters. Since they tend to form around your eyelids and lips, they’re also known as facial warts.

Filiform warts are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), which is contagious. You can spread the warts by skin contact, especially if the skin is broken. While they aren’t cancerous, they can cause discomfort. Learn more about the symptoms, treatment, and prevention of filiform warts.

Filiform warts look distinctive. These long, narrow projections most often appear on the lips, eyelids, neck, fingers, and legs. They can also spread quickly to other parts of the body.

Filiform warts are generally painless and don’t cause symptoms. This distinctive wart is often diagnosed by look alone. Symptoms may appear if the wart develops in sensitive areas such as skin folds. In that case, filiform warts may cause:

  • itching
  • bleeding
  • soreness
  • irritation

HPV is the cause of filiform warts. There are over 100 strains of HPV, but only a few strains (1, 2, 4, 27, and 29) are known to cause filiform warts. If you’re infected with one of these strains, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get filiform warts.

How does it spread?

HPV can spread between people through skin-to-skin contact. Contact of objects and clothes may also spread the virus. Risk of transmission may increase if you have:

  • an open cut or abrasion on the skin
  • a weak immune system
  • warm and moist skin
  • continued exposure to the virus

HPV can also spread from one part of the body to another part that’s uninfected.

Most treatments work to remove the warts, but they do not remove the virus. There’s no cure for HPV at the moment, only vaccines that target certain HPV strains. None of the current vaccines target the strains that cause filiform warts.

For most people, filiform warts will go away over time thanks to the body’s immune system. See your doctor to remove a filiform wart. Filiform warts on the fingers and hands are easier to treat than those on the face.

Surgical removal

Most warts are removed through burning or surgery. Here are the common procedures:

  • Excision: Your doctor will use a scalpel, blade, or other instrument to shave or snip the filiform wart. Your doctor may need to do this multiple times for maximal effectiveness.
  • Burning (curettage): Also known as electrosurgery, burning is a common treatment for filiform warts. Your doctor will scrape off the wart before or after the electrosurgery.
  • Cryotherapy: This is a common treatment for warts. A dermatologist will spray liquid nitrogen to freeze the wart. It’s not too painful, but may need multiple treatments to work. It may also cause pigmentation in some people.
  • Cantharidin: For this treatment, your doctor will “paint” cantharidin over your wart. This causes a blister to form under the wart so it dies. After a week, your doctor will be able to remove the wart by cutting it.

People with a weaker immune system due to age or an underlying health condition such as HIV or AIDS may have a more difficult time getting rid of the warts.

For warts that are more difficult to treat, your doctor may use:

  • laser treatments
  • chemical peels
  • injections
  • immunotherapy

Topical ointment, apple cider vinegar, and more for warts | Home treatments

Sometimes you may be able to treat warts at home, although filiform warts may be more difficult to treat due to their projections and location.

Avoid home treatments if:

  • the instructions ask you to cut the wart or rub it with a fingernail file.
  • you have diabetes and the warts are on your feet. Diabetes can cause loss of sensation and you may injure yourself without noticing.
  • the wart is on your face or another sensitive part of your body.

If the filiform warts aren’t on your face, you may be able to try one of the following home remedies. These aim to get your immune system working against the wart. Don’t let anyone else use the tools you used to treat your warts.

freezing treatmentsThis home spray kit is similar to cryotherapy but meant for warts on the hands only. You will need to scrape away the wart yourself.
salicylic acidFirst, you apply warm water to the area to soften the wart. Then, use a scrub brush, wet cloth, or blade to apply the salicylic acid cream to the wart. Remember to do this consistently as it may take a few weeks for the wart to disappear fully.
topical creamsDoctors commonly prescribe 5-fluorouracil, imiquimod, and benzoyl peroxide to help warts eventually peel away.
apple cider vinegarThe acetic acid in apple cider vinegar can help alleviate warts. Soak a cotton ball or gauze in apple cider vinegar and apply it to the wart. Stop use if you feel a burning sensation.

While filiform warts are benign and often asymptomatic, they are highly contagious. They can spread to other parts of your body or to other people, especially if there’s an open wound. See a doctor about treatment if you have a wart that won’t go away. Filiform warts caused by HPV don’t develop complications such as cancer.

Filiform warts are benign and people with healthy immune systems can fight them off over time. That said, the warts are highly contagious, may cause discomfort, and may be cosmetically unpleasing. Seek medical treatment to help speed up recovery.

To prevent filiform warts from spreading, follow these guidelines.

Prevention tips

  • Wash your hands regularly, especially if you touch your warts.
  • Avoid picking at your warts.
  • Cover the warts with a bandage.
  • Keep the areas around your warts dry.

You can prevent contracting HPV by:

  • Getting a regular HPV vaccine. Numerous high-quality studies show their effectiveness.
  • Getting tested regularly for HPV and other STDs. The majority of people with HPV do not know they have it.
  • Use safe sex practices such as condoms, lube, and limiting your number of sexual partners.

Contact a doctor immediately if you think you’ve been exposed to HPV. HPV often doesn’t show symptoms and you may unknowingly contract or pass on the virus.

Keep reading: All about HPV »