Warts are a common childhood ailment. Warts are caused when a virus infects the top layer of the skin, the stratum corneum, and sets up residence. Warts often spread and grow in size because the body fails to recognize the virus as being a pathogen. Warts can be transmitted from one area of skin to another by rubbing; the virus that causes the wart is contagious. Warts can remain for months and even years but often spontaneously go away, especially in children. Nevertheless, many families wonder if their child’s wart deserves medical treatment to hasten its resolution.
One of the most common warts in children is known as molluscum contagiosum. These tiny pearly papules are usually no more than 5 millimeters in size and often appear in clusters. There are several methods of treatment for molluscum. A physician can apply a medication known as cantharidin to the top of each little wart. The medication causes the top layer of the skin, where the virus lives, to blister and peel off, taking the virus with it. Cantharidin can also be used with other small warts but is not ideal for large warts. While the treatment is rarely uncomfortable, it is also often ineffective. Multiple applications may be necessary before the wart is fully gone.
Duct tape is also popular as a wart treatment and can be attempted at home. Duct tape can be used on any non-tender wart. In this treatment, the wart is cleaned and softened with soapy water. Then an unused emery board is used to gently file the wart down, stopping if it becomes uncomfortable. It is dried completely and a clean square of duct tape is applied over the wart. The duct tape is left on for a week and then gently removed with baby oil. The whole process is repeated weekly until the wart resolves.
There are many over-the-counter treatments for warts, but it’s a good idea to check with your physician before using them as many are irritating to the skin and can burn. It bears repeating that warts are usually self-limited so doing nothing is a good option for children who are not bothered by them.
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, February 2019
- Warts and their cousin molluscum contagiosum can be treated by your child’s doctor.
- Duct tape is a reasonable wart removal method for small warts that are not infected.
- Doing nothing is a reasonable course of action for warts and molluscum that are small, mild and not bothersome to the child.