Warts on kids

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When you hear the word warts, you might think of wicked witches in fairy tales, but warts can show up on kids too. Find out what warts are; what causes them to appear on your toddler or older child’s hands, feet, and fingers; how to prevent warts; and how they can be treated.

What Are Warts?

Warts are firm, harmless growths on the skin that can be flat or grainy. Warts come in different shapes, sizes, and colors, including yellow, pink, tan, gray, brown, or black.

Warts can appear anywhere on your kid’s body, including the feet and fingers, but they most often show up on the hands, toes, knees, and face.

Anyone can get a wart, but for reasons medical experts can’t yet explain, kids get warts more often than adults. Warts are not common for toddlers younger than 2 years old, however. Most kids develop an immunity to warts within two to five years, and any existing warts often clear up without treatment.

What Causes Warts on Toddlers and Kids?

The human papillomavirus (HPV) causes warts. Like a germ, HPV thrives in warm, moist places, such as small cuts or scratches on your child's skin. Once the virus finds a congenial location, a wart may start to develop. It can take many months or even years before the wart grows big enough to be seen.

A different strain of the same virus causes sexually transmitted infections in teens and adults; luckily, there is an HPV vaccine that offers protection against this virus strain beginning in the preteen years.

A child can pick up HPV by touching something that someone with a wart has used, such as a towel, or through close physical contact with an infected person. Kids who bite their fingernails or hangnails are more susceptible to getting warts. It’s best to avoid picking at a wart as this can spread the virus.

What Kinds of Warts Are There?

Here are some of the different kinds of warts:

  • Common warts. These warts typically grow on the hands, fingers, elbows, and knees. The wart may be raised with a rough texture, and may be a gray or brown color with black dots.

  • Flat warts. These are very small, like a pinhead, smooth, and flat. The color may be pink, yellow, or light brown. Flat warts often grow on the face, arms, hands, or knees. Flat warts may also grow in clusters.

  • Plantar warts. These warts grow on the bottom of the feet and can be painful. Walking barefoot in public areas, like a public pool or school gym, can cause these warts. The wart may be fleshy, rough, and grainy, and may have black dots.

  • Filiform warts. This is a finger-shaped wart that typically grows around the mouth, eyes, or nose. It’s the characteristic witch’s wart.

How Do You Treat Warts on Kids?

Your child’s healthcare provider will be able to recommend appropriate treatment, depending on the type of wart your child has. You may not have to do anything to get rid of it, as some warts clear up on their own. Others may require repeated treatments.

These are some of the options for how to treat a wart:

  • Medication. This can either be an over-the-counter medication or one prescribed by your child’s healthcare provider. These topical medications often include a mild acid that works to get rid of the wart.

  • Cryosurgery. Your child’s provider may use a chemical to freeze the wart off. After this procedure a scab develops as your child’s skin heals. Repeated treatment may be necessary to fully kill the wart-causing HPV virus that lurks underneath the skin.

  • Laser treatment. If your child’s wart hasn’t responded to other treatments, your child’s provider may recommend laser treatment. A laser is used to zap the wart. Deep warts may need additional laser treatment.

  • Physical removal. In some cases, the wart may be removed using special surgical tools to burn or scrape off the wart.

Prevention

You can’t fully prevent your child from getting a wart, but there are some steps you can take to help guard against warts, or stop them from spreading child to child.

Follow these guidelines to help reduce the chance of a wart forming:

  • Wash your child’s hands and skin regularly

  • If your child has a scratch, cut, or scrape, wash the area thoroughly with soap and water

  • Avoid having your child walk barefoot in public places like pools and gyms. Instead, encourage him to wear flip-flops or sandals.

  • Change your child’s socks and shoes every day and ensure his feet are always clean and dry.

When Should You Call Your Child’s Healthcare Provider?

Contact your child’s healthcare provider if

  • your child has a wart anywhere on her body

  • your child has a wart on her face, genitals, or rectum

  • you’re not sure that it’s a wart

  • the warts spread to other areas of your child’s body

  • the area around any wart is painful, red, bleeding, swollen, or oozing pus.

The Bottom Line

If your child has warts, know that these are treatable and may even disappear on their own. Before long, your child's skin will be back to normal.

In the meantime, do your best to keep warts at bay by practicing good hygiene. Encourage your child to do simple things like washing her hands and changing her socks, keeping her skin clean and dry, wearing flip-flops at the swimming pool, and avoiding sharing objects like towels. Teaching your child these hygiene basics not only helps prevent warts but may also prevent some other infections from developing.

How We Wrote This Article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.

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