Warts, or verruca, are a very common, harmless skin infection caused by a virus. For reasons that are not entirely clear, children seem to develop warts more often than adults. This is NOT a sign of a problem with the immune system. You can lessen the spread of warts by discouraging picking or scratching.

There are several types of warts:

  • Filiform warts − look like small “skin tags.” They often show up on areas such as the eyelids and around the mouth and nose.
  • Common warts − look like rough bumps on the skin. They are often seen on the hands but can be seen anywhere on the skin. They may bleed if picked at.
  • Plantar warts − look like rough patches on the soles of the feet. They are often painful and can grow very large.
  • Flat warts − look like very small flat, smooth bumps. They are often seen on the face.

Most warts go away on their own within several months to years, so treatment may not be needed for many children. There is no treatment guaranteed to cure warts. If your primary care provider recommends treatment, it is important that you follow the instructions exactly as suggested. In general, two or more treatments at a time are more likely to be successful.

Initial treatment with topical salicylic acid and medical tape is usually recommended. Solutions of 17 percent salicylic acid are readily available over the counter (Compound W, etc.).

The medication should be applied to completely cover the wart after bathing or showering.  Larger warts may be pared down gently with a disposable razor before applying the medication. Once the medication is dry, the wart should be covered with cloth medical tape (may be purchased at a drug store / pharmacy). Every one to three days when the tape loosens or falls off, it should be removed and more medication and tape applied until the wart is gone.

If the treated skin gets irritated, stop treatment for a few days until the skin feels better, then restart if the wart is still present. Be patient! Treatment may take several months.

Use of an over-the counter cryogen (cold) spray at home may be considered after several weeks if the wart is not going away. The cold medicine should be carefully applied to the wart and a small rim of 1 to 2 mm of normal skin around the wart. Treatments are repeated every two to four weeks. This may be somewhat painful. You should also continue to use the topical salicylic acid and tape treatment.

Sometimes, once one or a few warts start to go away, any other warts present will also soon go away.

Most warts in children can be managed by your primary care provider with the treatment described above or with watchful waiting without any treatment.

Referral to a specialist is generally only indicated for warts that are causing significant pain or discomfort and that have not responded to several months of consistent treatment as recommended by your primary care provider.

Last Updated 08/2012