By Drs. Sally Robinson and Keith Bly
Nearly 50 percent of children get a wart at some point. Warts are passed from person to person by a virus known as the human papillomavirus, and not from touching frogs or toads. They can occur on any area of the body, but they are usually found on fingers, hands and feet.
Warts are skin lesions caused by a virus and are contagious. However, touching a wart doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll get one. There is no way to prevent warts, but good hand washing can decrease the chance that a wart will form if your child has been exposed to someone with warts, especially in areas where your child has scratches or cuts. It’s also a good idea to have your child wear waterproof sandals in locker rooms, around public pools and in public showers.
There are several types of warts, including:
• Common warts are found on fingers, hands, knees and elbows. They are dome-shaped with a rough surface and usually grayish-brown.
• Flat warts, also known as juvenile warts, are small (about the size of a pinhead) and smooth with flat tops. They can be pink, light brown or yellow. They are normally found on the face, but they may grow on arms, knees or hands.
• Plantar warts are found on the bottom of the foot. These warts can cause discomfort when walking.
• Filiform warts are flesh-colored and shaped somewhat like a finger. They commonly grow around the mouth, eyes or nose.
In most cases, warts heal on their own without treatment in about six months, but some can last for 2 to 3 years. They can be removed more quickly with treatment, but they may return if the virus is not completely removed from the skin. Because they heal on their own and don’t cause any life-threatening problems, it isn’t necessary to have them removed unless you have concerns. However, there are several treatments you may want to consider to keep warts from being spread to other parts of the body.
Your doctor may:
• prescribe a medication to put on the wart
• burn the wart off
• freeze the wart with liquid nitrogen
• use laser treatment, which works well to remove plantar warts or other warts that are more difficult to remove.
The wart may fall off several days after the treatment, but it may require several treatments. If your child has a common wart on her finger, you may want to talk to your doctor about using an over-the-counter treatment. If you have a young child or infant with a wart anywhere on his body, or if you have a child (of any age) with a wart on his face, genital or rectal area, call your doctor before you try an over-the-counter medication.
You should also call your physician if a wart (treated or untreated) or the surrounding skin is painful, red, bleeding, swollen or oozing pus.
Dr. Sally Robinson is a pediatrician in the division of children’s special services at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. She teaches medical students about caring for children with chronic medical conditions. Dr. Keith Bly is a hospitalist and assistant professor of pediatrics at UTMB.
The Your Health column is written by health and medical experts at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. The column focuses on topical health issues that we believe are of interest to your readers. It is e-mailed every Tuesday. If you have any questions about the column, or would like to suggest topics, please contact John Koloen, media relations specialist, at (409) 772-8790 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.