A wart is a common type of skin growth that can occur singly or in clusters. They are most common on the hands, but can develop elsewhere on the body such as the feet. Warts are not usually painful, unless they are on the soles of the feet. They are contagious however, so can spread to other parts of the body or even to other people.

What causes warts?

Warts are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV) so can spread elsewhere on the body or to other people. There are many different strains of this virus causing different types of warts. Warts are much more common in children than adults, although we do not really understand why. Very rarely, warts can be associated with other conditions such as a damped down immune system.

What are the signs and symptoms of a wart?

A wart usually looks like a raised area of skin, sometimes paler or darker than the surrounding skin. There may be black dots on the surface of the wart – these are the tiny blood vessels (capillaries) supplying the wart with blood. Warts on the feet are not usually raised but do have tiny black dots on the surface.

How is a wart diagnosed?

Warts have a characteristic appearance so a child's doctor will usually be able to diagnose them just by looking at them. Very occasionally, a biopsy (small sample of tissue) will be taken to confirm the diagnosis, or blood tests if the doctor thinks the immune system may be affected.

How is a wart treated?

Most warts – except those on the face – can be treated using an ‘over the counter’ preparation that is available without prescription from the child's local community pharmacist (chemist). These preparations come in a variety of formats, such as solutions, gels or creams.

Usually the surface of the wart needs to be filed away with a nail file or emery board first before the gel or cream is applied. A plaster should then be put over the wart – depending on its location – to keep the gel or cream in place. This kind of topical treatment is usually successful but can take weeks or months to remove the wart entirely.

What happens next?

While a child has a wart, they should be scrupulous about keeping clean, washing their hands thoroughly with soap and water every time they touch the wart. They should also have their own towel and flannel to prevent spreading warts to other members of the family. To reduce the risk of spreading the virus, please discourage the child from picking or fiddling with the wart.

Most warts disappear with or without treatment in a year or two. They can come back (recur). Occasionally, a wart can leave a scar but this is unusual.

Compiled by: 
The Dermatology department in collaboration with the Child and Family Information Group
Last review date: 
October 2013