What’s With Warts?


If you’re a typical mom, that’s likely to be your reaction when Little Guy comes to you with a bumpy growth on a finger or knee and asks, “Mom, what’s this?”

Warts are common viral skin infections that can show up anywhere on the body, most frequently on parts that stick out, like fingers, knees, elbows, and the soles of the feet. They’re generally harmless and may not need to be removed for medical reasons, but most moms (and many kids) are grossed out and want them gone.

More common in kids than adults, warts are caused by viruses in the human papillomavirus (HPV) family and can be transmitted by touching anything, like towels or surfaces, that has been touched by someone else who’s infected. Warts are usually painless unless they’re located on the soles of the feet or someplace that’s often touched or banged.

The 3 types of warts (known as verrucae) common in kids are:

  • Common warts are small, hard, skin-colored bumps with a rough surface that often occur in groups.
  • Flat warts are smoother than the other types and have flat tops. Color can range from pink to brown to yellow.
  • Plantar warts are common warts that form on the soles of the feet and are pushed into the skin by pressure, looking like flat warts. These can be painful and feel like walking on something small and hard.

Kids who pick at their skin or bite their nails are more likely to get warts due to tiny breaks in the skin that provide routes for the virus to enter. They are passed from person to person, but can take a long time to appear – up to several months – after the virus lands.

Prevention is difficult, as some kids are prone to warts while others never get them, but frequent hand washing and good hygiene are helpful, as is wearing rubber flip flops around public swimming pools or showers. Use soap and water to clean cuts and scratches, and remember that band-aids can cure anything as far as most kiddos are concerned.

It’s usually not necessary to have warts removed. They’re harmless, and left untreated will go away on their own in anywhere from 6 months to two years — yes, they go as slowly as they come. But if a wart is causing pain (or extreme emotional distress) there are a bunch of removal techniques, including home remedies and medical treatments.

Prescription oral medications may be given to stimulate the body’s immune system to attack the wart.

Over-the-counter and prescription topical medicines are applied to the surface of the affected area daily, then covered until the wart flakes away or begins to disappear.

Electric current is used to burn the wart off in one or two treatments.

Liquid nitrogen is applied to freeze the wart off, called cryotherapy.

Laser treatment may be used for persistent warts.

Duct tape may be used to cover the wart and ‘smother’ it off. This has been shown to be effective, though we don’t know why.

See a doctor if your child is under 2 or if the wart is located on the face, genitals or rectum. Always seek medical attention for a wart that is red, bleeding, painful, swollen, or oozing.

Otherwise it’s safe to take a watch-and-wait approach. They’re just warts, after all.

PS: Touching a toad will NOT give you warts!



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Ellen and Rachel are two old friends and “expert” mamas—one a pediatrician and one a family therapist—with fifty years of parenting experience between them.

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One response to “What’s With Warts?”

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