Treating Warts in Children

by Tom Seman MD FAAP June 19th, 2013 | Pediatrician on Call
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Pediatrician+on+CallI have a sixteen year-old daughter who is prone to warts.  Should we treat each one or just let them be?

Warts are always such a bother and have gotten such a bad name, often being associated with witches and ogres and the like. In reality, though, a wart is just a viral infection of the skin. The wart makes the skin grow faster than the surrounding skin, thereby creating the telltale bumps. There are several different kinds of warts, but they are all similar in their formation. The difference lies in the virus that infects the cells. Choosing to treat or not should be based on a variety of considerations:

  • Most warts are small and self limiting. Eventually the body recognizes the wart as being foreign and starts to destroy the wart virus containing skin cells. This will cause the wart to turn red and somewhat swollen. The wart is then destroyed, and the center of this area looks as if it is filled with pus. Not to worry though, the white stuff is just the ex-wart and not another infection. If the body cannot control the virus and the wart starts to spread, then it may be time to treat them.
  • Most of the treatments deal with destroying the cells directly while trying to not to kill off too many of the nearby uninfected cells. Most over-the-counter (OTC) solutions are acids of various types that erode the wart cells from the top. These take a while, weeks or even months of dailytreatments, but they are very comfortable.
  • The other methods involve forming a blister, which may be somewhat uncomfortable. This may be via freezing using either the OTC version or the medical grade liquids; the goal is to cause some controlled frostbite that pops the cells involved.
  • Another method is using a chemical from the Chinese Blister Beetle named cantharone. This action of the chemical is exactly as you would imagine from aninsect named a blister beetle.

Most of the time, any of these methods are effective. However, there are some warts that require multiple treatments. Also, even though these treatment methods are destroying skin there is usually not any scarring, but on thin skin the destructive forces of the methods may go deep enough to cause some scarring. Ask your child’s doctor what method with which she is most comfortable.

It has been estimated that everyone has at least two warts in their lifetime so don’t fret too much!

Have a safe Fourth of July!

Good Luck,
Dr. Tom

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All health and medical information is provided for educational purposes and is not meant to replace the medical advice or treatment of your healthcare professional.