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What's Up With Warts?

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A wart is a small area of hardened skin that usually has a bumpy surface. Warts come in many sizes, colors, and shapes. They can appear anywhere on the body. Kids get them most often on the hands, feet, and face.

Anybody can get warts, but kids get them more often than adults do. Lots of kids get warts, although some kids never get any warts at all. Doctors really don't know why some kids get warts. (But they're sure it's not from touching frogs or toads!) It could be that some people's immune (say: ih-myoon) systems, which fight infections, make them less likely to get warts.

The good news is that most warts won't make you sick or cause a health problem. And if a wart is bothering you, a doctor can remove it.

Why Do Kids Get Warts?

Viruses cause warts. They're called humanpapilloma (say: pah-pih-loh-mah) viruses, or HPV for short.

HPV viruses are like other germs. The wart virus loves warm, moist places like small cuts or scratches on your hands or feet. Once the virus finds a nice warm place on the skin, a wart begins to develop. Warts can grow for many months — sometimes a year or more — before they are big enough to see. So if you do get a wart, you may never know where you came into contact with HPV.

If you touch a towel, surface, or anything else someone with a wart has used, you can pick up HPV. Kids who bite their fingernails or pick at hangnails get warts more often than kids who don't. That's why it's important to avoid picking, rubbing, or scratching a wart, whether it's on another person or on your own body.

How Do Warts Look and Feel?

Most warts don't hurt. But a wart can be annoying if it's on a part of your body that gets bumped or touched all the time. Different kinds of warts grow on different parts of the body. Some warts are smooth and flat. Some are big, rough bumps. Others are tiny and grow in clusters.

Here are some types of warts:

  • Common warts usually grow on fingers, hands, knees, and elbows. A common wart is dome-shaped and is usually grayish-brown. It has a rough surface with black dots.
  • Flat warts are also called juvenile warts, probably because kids get them more often than adults do. These warts are small and about the size of a pinhead. They're smoother than other kinds of warts and have flat tops. A flat wart may be pink, light brown, or yellow. Most kids who get flat warts have them on their faces, but flat warts can also grow on arms, knees, or hands. There can be as many as 100 flat warts all clustered together.
  • Although most warts are painless, a wart on the bottom of the foot — called a plantar wart — can really hurt. It can feel like you have a stone in your shoe. To prevent plantar warts, do not walk barefoot in public places — like a gym locker or at a public pool. Also, change your shoes and socks every day and keep your feet clean and dry.
  • You've probably seen filiform (say: fih-luh-form) warts. They're the kind that witches in movies and fairytale books have on their chins or noses. But you don't have to be a witch to get one! A filiform wart has a finger-like shape and usually is flesh-colored. It often grows on or around the mouth, eyes, or nose.

How Warts Are Removed

In general, the treatment for a wart depends on the type of wart a person has. It's a good idea to have a doctor look at a wart before trying to treat it, especially if it is on the bottom of your foot. Corns, calluses, and plantar warts all can form areas of thick, hard skin on feet, and it isn't always easy to tell them apart.

For some kinds of warts, the doctor may even suggest that you don't need medicines to make them go away. In time, these warts will disappear on their own. Warts can be hard to get rid of because the thick layers of skin make it hard for medicine to reach the virus that causes them. There are many ways to treat warts, but treatments can sometimes be tricky. After a wart seems to be removed, it might come right back.

Sometimes, a wart can be treated with medicine you can buy at the drugstore. These medicines contain mild acid that removes the dead skin cells on the wart. A grown-up applies the medicine or you just wear a little medicine patch in that spot. Over time, the wart crumbles away from the healthy skin.

In other cases, you need a doctor to help you get rid of a wart. Here are some common ways to get rid of warts:

  • Prescription medicine, which your doctor can give you. You and a parent would apply it nightly for a few weeks.
  • Cryosurgery (say: kry-o-sur-juh-ree), in which the doctor uses a special chemical (sometimes containing liquid nitrogen) to freeze the wart, and a scab usually forms as the skin heals. This treatment is usually repeated every 1 to 3 weeks for a few months to fully kill the virus that causes the wart.
  • Laser treatment may be used for warts that are stubborn and haven't gone away with other kinds of treatment. A tiny laser can be used to zap a plantar wart or other wart. It may need to be repeated a few times to get rid of deep plantar warts.
  • Surgery is sometimes used to remove a wart. It's not a doctor's first choice because it can leave scar.

With any of the treatments above, the doctor will take steps to prevent you from feeling pain while the wart is being removed. And after it's all over, you can wave goodbye to your wart!

Reviewed by: Joel Klein, MD
Date reviewed: November 2010

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses and treatment, consult your doctor.

© 1995–2014 The Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth. All rights reserved.

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