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Warts are generally harmless skin growths. They are very common, affecting around one in five children. Warts can come up anywhere on the skin or mucous membranes (e.g. the mouth, genitals). However, they are most commonly found on the hands, fingers, feet and face.
Warts can spread to other people, usually due to skin-to-skin contact with another person. Picking or scratching may lead to spreading of warts on the same child. Warts can also be spread indirectly through swimming pools or public showers, especially if your child is barefoot
and they have scratches or cuts. Wearing thongs is recommended in public pools and showers.
Half of all warts will disappear within two years. They can last longer in adults, or people with immune system problems. If the warts are not causing any problems, there is no need to treat them.
Warts can have many different appearances, from flat, shiny or long stalks to large rough lumps. In some instances, they can be painful, particularly when they are on the feet or under nails.
Warts are caused by a family of viruses called human papillomavirus (HPV). Once infected with the virus, it may take up to a year or more for the wart to become visible. They then grow very slowly over a period of months to years.
There are many different types of wart virus, and it is possible to become immune to one type, but develop other types of warts. Any immunity is not lifelong.
Genital warts are caused by a different family type of HPV. These are sexually transmitted and can sometimes cause cervical and vulval cancer. Ordinary skin warts do not cause cancer.
You don't need to treat your child’s warts, especially if they are not causing any problems. However, if the warts are causing your child embarrassment or pain, there are treatment options. No single treatment is guaranteed to work, and many require a few
Make an appointment to see your GP if the warts, or their treatment, cause excessive pain, or if home treatments haven’t worked.
Treatment options available from a GP include:
Are the wart ointments or paints dangerous to use?
Wart treatments are safe to use on children, but keep in
mind that wart ointment and paints are toxic to warts, and you should take care
not to get them on the surrounding skin. Always follow the instructions on the
packaging. Podophyllin (a wart paint) should not be used in pregnancy. If you
are concerned about possible warts in a child under 12 months of age, have them
seen first by your local doctor.
Can I get the doctor to cut out my child’s wart?
We do not suggest
having warts cut out due to the risk of them coming back, and the high chance
Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital Dermatology department. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.
Reviewed May 2018.
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