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What's Up With Warts on Children?

Why children get warts, and what parents can do.

Reducing the Risk of Contagious Warts in Children

The viruses that cause common skin warts are passed from child to child. Once the virus infects the skin, it typically takes several months for the wart to become visible.

Some children are more susceptible to warts than others. Children with a compromised immune system -- such as children who have had an organ transplant -- are more likely to get warts.  Kids who bite their nails or pick at hangnails – creating tiny cuts in the skin -- are also more likely to get warts.  

But even children with healthy immune systems and good nail habits may be more susceptible to getting warts, just as some people are more likely than others to catch colds often.

Children pick up the virus in many ways: By sharing towels and toys or playing with friends. However, there are ways to reduce the odds of your child developing warts. Here are Krol’s top tips:

  • Encourage your child to wear flip-flops around a public swimming pool and in public showers.
  • At home, if someone else has a problem with plantar warts, encourage the one with warts (if old enough) to spray a dilute bleach solution in the shower stall or bathtub after use and then rinse.  
  • Assign one bath and hand towel to each child, and tell them not to share towels.

Of course, there’s no sure way to prevent warts. Simply playing with other children exposes kids to the possibility of catching warts, says Nanette Silverberg, MD, director of pediatric and adolescent dermatology at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital in New York City.

 A child with warts plays on monkey bars, for instance, and another child with small cuts on the hand touches the surface. The virus is transmitted and that other child develops warts.

"The virus tends to be fairly hardy on surfaces," Silverberg tells WebMD.

Should You Treat Warts on Children?

Fortunately, warts do not harm a child’s health, and often go away on their own.

Doing nothing for warts is perfectly OK, Krol says. In one study, researchers reported that warts spontaneously cleared in 40% of children within two years without any treatment.

Still, many children are bothered by warts and want them removed. Warts on feet can pose problems, leading to discomfort and inability to perform well in sports, for instance.  Even common warts on hands may bother a child who is embarrassed.

Here is a rundown of common treatments to consider. But remember, no matter what treatment you use, Krol says not to expect too much. "No treatment is 100%," he says. And warts can come back.

Home Remedies and OTC Treatments for Warts on Children

Home remedies run the gamut. People have put castor oil on warts, or a crushed paste of vitamin C. Among the most ludicrous treatment that Stephen Webster, MD, a dermatologist at Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center in La Crosse, Wis., has heard: rub the wart with a potato and then bury the potato, keeping its location a secret.

Other at-home treatments have research to back them up, say Webster and other experts.

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