Health Encyclopedia

Warts in Children

What are skin warts?

Warts on the skin are harmless growths. They are caused by a virus. Warts can spread to other parts of the body and to other people.

What causes skin warts?

Warts are caused by a type of human papillomavirus. Different types of warts are caused by different types of papillomavirus.

Who is at risk for warts?

Warts are more common in children than adults, but they can happen at any age. A person is more at risk for warts if he or she has either of these:

  • Close contact with someone who has warts
  • A weak immune system

What are the symptoms of skin warts?

Warts are usually not painful, except when one is on the bottom of a foot. There are many different types of warts. They each look different. The types of warts and their symptoms include:

  • Common warts. These usually have a rough surface. They are grayish-yellow or brown in color. They may be on the fingers, elbows, knees, or the face.
  • Plantar and palmar warts. These grow on the soles of feet or the palms of the hand. Groups of plantar warts are called mosaic. These warts may be painful.
  • Flat warts. These are small, smooth growths. They most often appear on children's faces.
  • Filiform warts. These are small, long, narrow growths. They usually appear on eyelids, lips, or the face or neck.
  • Periungual warts. These appear as thickened skin around the nails. They can cause painful splits in the skin (fissures).

How are skin warts diagnosed?

The healthcare provider will give your child a physical exam. A healthcare provider will usually diagnose warts based on their appearance. He or she may use a small blade to scrape away the top layers. There may be black dots beneath the top layers. These are tiny blood vessels that have clotted. Your child's healthcare provider may recommend that your child see a skin specialist (dermatologist). The dermatologist may do a shave biopsy, although this is not commonly done. A very small amount of the wart is shaved and sent to the lab to be examined.

How are skin warts treated?

Most warts go away in weeks or months with no treatment. Common warts can often be treated with over-the-counter products. Treatment of warts depends on:

  • How long they have been in place
  • Where they are on the body
  • What type of wart they are
  • How many of them are growing

Some treatment methods may cause pain and burning in the area treated. Talk with your child's healthcare provider about which treatments would cause the least pain and work best for your child. Treatment may include one or more of the below:                      

  • Putting salicylic acid or other medicines on the wart (topical irritants)
  • Freezing the wart with liquid nitrogen
  • Applying an electrical current to the wart (electrocautery)
  • Cutting out (excising) the wart
  • Removing the wart with laser surgery

What are possible complications of skin warts?

Warts may be difficult to treat and may return.

Can skin warts be prevented?

Warts can spread to other parts of the body and to other people. It can be spread by skin to skin contact. It can be virus may be spread by towels or other personal items. You can help prevent the warts from spreading. Make sure your child:

  • Doesn’t touch the wart to other parts of his or her body
  • Doesn’t touch the wart to other people
  • Doesn’t share anything that touches his or her wart, such as towels
  • Wears socks or slippers if he or she has warts on the bottom of the feet

When should I call my child's healthcare provider?

Call your child's healthcare provider if your child has warts that:

  • Are painful
  • Cause problems with normal activities
  • Are embarrassing

Key points about skin warts

  • Warts on the skin are harmless growths. They are caused by one of the human papillomaviruses. 
  • Warts are more common in children than adults, although they can develop at any age.
  • There are many different types of warts with different appearances.
  • Most warts go away, without treatment, but it may take weeks or months.
  • Warts can be treated with over-the-counter medicines. Other treatments may be prescribed by your child's healthcare provider.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:
  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • At the visit, write down the names of new medicines, treatments, or tests, and any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.
  • If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.

Medical Reviewers:

  • Berman, Kevin, MD, PhD
  • Freeborn, Donna, PhD, CNM, FNP