Warts and All: Dr. First Shares Tips & Tricks on Wart Removal

Parents have been hand over foot asking me lots of questions about their child’s warts.  Well let me see if I can do more than skin the surface on this topic.

Warts are tiny skin infections caused by a strain of human papilloma virus (HPV) – but not the same strain that causes genital warts and increases one’s risk for cervical cancer in teens and adult women.  The HPV strain that causes common warts results in small, hard bumps on your skin with a rough surface – similar in texture to a cauliflower.  They are usually found on the fingers, hands, arms and feet in children and are painless except for those on the feet. More than 50% of children will get a wart at some time.  They are usually passed from person to person by simply sharing towels, or from close contact between children who may have open scratches or cuts, allowing the virus to spread easily into someone else.

The good news is that warts can be treated and will go away even without treatment, although this may take weeks to months or even years.  Over-the-counter medications are available which contain mild acids that will slowly peel off the dead skin cells of the wart and eventually cause it to disappear.  One of the most recent discoveries in wart treatment involves the use of duct tape.   A few studies suggest that wrapping the wart in duct tape for 6 days a week for 4 to 8 weeks, followed by one day of soaking and paring down the wart with an emery board or pumice stone, may be just as effective as the over the counter acid medications.  The duct tape method is thought to work by revving up the body’s immune system, as the tape mildly inflames the wart, but more evidence is needed to determine just how effective this therapy can really be. 

If over-the-counter and duct tape methods don’t work, other measures recommended by our child’s physician may involve other prescription medications, freezing off the warts or laser surgery, but that is rarely necessary.  

Can warts be prevented?  Not really, but the chance of your child getting one may be reduced if they wash their skin regularly and well, especially after they get a cut or scratch.  Wearing flip flops in public showers and locker rooms and around public pools may protect against warts that show up on the bottom of the foot.

Hopefully you’ll find these tips rewarting when it comes to knowing more about how to deal with warts. 

Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Children's Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. You can also catch "First with Kids" weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at http://www.FletcherAllen.org/firstwithkids