What to do about warts

The Pediatric Insider

© 2011 Roy Benaroch, MD

Allison wants to know: “What do you do for warts on young children (say, 6 years old)? Can you use over the counter remedies?”

You could, sure, but they don’t work very well. Come to think of it, nothing else works really well either. So, sure, give the OTCs a try.

Warts are annoying little bumps, most often found on hands and feet. Though they’re triggered by a virus, they’re not really considered contagious—children with warts, for instance, are not instructed to stay home from school. That’s because virtually all of us have already been infected with numerous common wart viruses, even if we don’t have any warts. Why do some people get warts, and some not, even though we’ve all got the virus? No one knows.

FrogChildren are more susceptible to warts than adults, but there is a bright side: most warts in children will go away on their own, whether treated or not. So, naturally, there are probably a hundred or more approaches that are commonly tried. Here’s a list of 50 home remedies to get you started! Since warts will usually go away in kids, all of these are at least fairly likely to “work,” if you wait long enough. My personal favorite is to rub a wart the a cut half of a potato, then bury the potato in the backyard. Not only will the wart go away, but you might end up with your own potato plant! (Health tip: don’t eat the fresh grown potatoes if they have warts.)

From my point of view, reasonable choices for wart therapy include:

  1. Do nothing. This is especially suitable if the wart isn’t hurting or bothering anybody.
  2. OTC products, like “Compound W”. These can work, but have to be used every day for at least several weeks. Keep the medicine off of surrounding normal skin—just barely dab it on the wart itself. I wouldn’t try this on sensitive areas (genital, face) at any age, but for hands and feet these products are safe if used carefully.
  3. The “duct tape method,” described in detail here. The first published study on this had excellent results; followup studies have been less impressive. Still, it’s cheap and safe and painless.
  4. More aggressive doctor-therapies—I am not very keen on these, and in fact no longer do these myself in my office. They can be painful and may leave more scarring and problems behind. Choices tried by doctors include blistering agents (which sometimes trigger a big reaction) and freezing warts (which can be quite painful the next day.)
  5. Off-label but safe medications. These require a prescription, and aren’t FDA-approved for wart removal, but some topicals (imiquimod) and oral medications (cimetidine or griseofulvin) seem effective at least sometimes at quickly knocking out warts. I try these occasionally, when there are many warts of when a family has had it with waiting. Get more details from your own doctor, and choose the safest alternative.

Annoying they may be, but keep in mind that warts (at least in children) will usually go away on their own if you just leave them alone. If you must treat warts, choose something safe and easy and painless, at least at first. Patience, honestly, is the best cure.

PS. All of this is about ordinary, common warts seen in children. Genital warts are another matter entirely—they are spread through sexual contact, and can be associated with cervical and other cancers. Genital warts and cervical cancer can be prevented via safe sexual practices and vaccination—more about that here and here.

PPS. I’m putting little clip photos in my posts lately to make the blog look cooler when viewed via an iPad. I choose the froggie today because, well, you do NOT want to see the pics that show up when you do a google image search on warts. Trust me on this.

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17 Comments on “What to do about warts”

  1. Shannon Says:

    My neighbor swears that putting breastmilk on her kids warts makes them go away, to the extent, that about a year ago she asked me if I had any leftover frozen breastmilk she could have to treat one. I did so I gave it to her. I never did follow up to find out if “my” breastmilk worked.

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  2. Dr. Roy Says:

    Shannon– now you’ve got to ask and let us know!

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  3. Beverley Says:

    My daughter (then 6) developed a plantar wart over several months last fall and although we tried to get rid of it, it spread to her other foot by December. She became increasingly anxious about it and said it hurt her to walk sometimes. We tried 3 different OTC products over 4 months and finally went to 2 different pediatric podiatrists. The final doctor was so kind and patient with her she allowed him to dab a tiny bit of a solution onto her warts. It was a brown solution that could only be applied by a doctor. She could not get the area wet for 24 hours after application. We went every two weeks for 2 months to have it reapplied. I’m very happy to report (for her sake) that she is now wart free and we will all be wearing shoes religiously at the local pool from now on!

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  4. Dr. Roy Says:

    Beverly, I’m glad your daughter did well. Do you know what the solution was?

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  5. Beverley Says:

    Hi Dr. Roy, I’m sorry, I don’t know the name of the solution. Our podiatrist said that dermatologists have their own version of the same solution and they call it “beetlejuice.” He said it wasn’t something that could be prescribed directly to us and that a doctor had to apply it. He was very careful to dab it only where absolutely necessary. Then a bandaid was applied and the area had to be kept dry for 24 hours. My daughter reported that it didn’t have an immediate effect, but hours later there would be a heat and a strong sensation coming from the area where it was applied. As the solution worked, layers of dead skin would form that, I’m assuming, an adult would remove, but my daughter was so anxious about it, she wouldn’t let me touch it in any way. We just had to wait for it to wear away. I think this bought us a few extra visits, but the end, it was successful.

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  6. SusanVictorSamPeter12345 Says:

    Hello Doc, My daughter(nearly twelve) has one wart on her thumb, it is bothering her and hurts if she pushes it. She is very embarrassed and dosen’t know what to do, if i touch it do i have to wear gloves?and what do you think is the best solution? The wart has been there for nearly two weeks or so.

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  7. Lucy Byrne Says:

    Are you a real doctor, or a wart surgeon?

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  8. Dr. Roy Says:

    Susan, if that wart is bothering her and embarrassing her, I’d go for the quick-fix: a trip to the dermatologist for freezing.

    Lucy, I’m a real doctor. I’ve never even met a wart surgeon!

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  9. Dr. Roy Says:

    Beverly posted this as a topic suggestion, and I’m pasting it here:

    Dear Dr. Roy, With shamed head hanging, I have to admit, our 6 year old has a plantar wart. Yuck. Its about the size of a pencil eraser and is near the ball of her foot. Its apparently quite painful as she periodically hops around in agony. We’ve seen our pediatrician who recommended we try an OTC treatment – and if that didn’t work, to go onto a podiatrist. So, of course, the first OTC treatment of freezing and acid didn’t work. This is due, in part, to the extremely negative and dramatic reaction of the 6 year old that made the treatment very difficult. Broadway shows have been produced with fewer theatrics. We’re trying another OTC treatment of small medicated discs covered by large pads that are supposed to stay on and protect and prevent the warts from spreading. Its going a bit better as she can apply these herself. We’re getting a large white area of dead skin around the wart. Its a little worrying. The 6 year old is still, to put it mildly, generally uncooperative. The poor,unsuspecting podiatrist who will be seeing this kid in a few weeks will have to offer a sedative to even catch a glimpse at the wart. I’d love to try to handle this at home, and save everyone the trauma of lashing her to the table so he can see to her foot, but it feels like its getting out of hand… any advice? Thank you in advance. Signed, Downtrodden

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  10. Dr. Roy Says:

    Beverly, With that much hysterics I’d go with option #5 in the post above. There are a few off-label topicals or oral meds that help at least some of the time, and they’re very safe and (most importantly!) painless.

    Best of luck!

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  11. Leslie Says:

    Hi Dr. Roy – wanted to let you know that when my son developed Molluscum, I was prepared for it based on one of your blog posts. Our Ped confirmed during his annual, looking at the one on his upper torso. I noticed my son was sad, so I asked – does it bother you to have a wart? He said “No, I had thought I was growing a third nipple, which would have been cool.” You’re right, warts bug parents a lot more than kids.

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  13. Dr. Roy Says:

    OK, Mr. 250 gallon etc…– your spam is almost poetic. I must approve!

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  14. Rob Jones Says:

    Warts can be a real pain! I was able to get rid of a big plantar wart that I struggled with for two years by using a method consisting of duct tape 24/7, epsom salt soaks everyday and salicylic acid pads at the end. It took about three weeks.

    It’s now completely gone and I don’t even have a mark.

    You can read more about the method I used if you’d like to try it at a blog I created to document it:

    http://stubbornwart.blogspot.com/

    There are also Before and After photos showing the progress I made.

    Best of luck!

    -Rob

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  15. samantha Says:

    My daughter who’s 5 has them on the TOP of one foot..3 of them…treating them with OTC…hoping it works but I’m so sick of them I’m thinking the doctor might be better…doing nothing made it spread and bigger :/

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  16. Prisilla Says:

    My son just turned 7. He has several warts one on face, hand and leg. They are small and don’t bother his dr pretty much said they’ll go away and kind of brushed it off. But that was when he only had one and now he’s up to 3 and over the counter remedies don’t seem to work and I don’t want to put that on his face! Any tips? Suggestions? I know they’re bothering me more than him but it just really bothers me. They must not be contagious like I’ve read bc he has 4 brothers 2 older and 2 younger that have not got them.

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  17. Pat Warren Says:

    my 5 year old granddaughter has numerous small warts on her fingers and one on the bottom of her foot. My daughter said she got them from her dad? Are warts hereditary? She has had them since she was an infant and they have not even started to go away. She tries to bite them off and is already being teased about them by children she plays with. We have not taken her to a dermatologist as yet but considering it. How long does it take for them to go away naturally. I also have developed a wart on my pinkie finger since she was born. I have had it frozen several times but its still there. What is it with warts anyway?
    mamamoon

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