The Facts on Childhood Warts
When I was younger, I had this pesky wart on my hand that would not go away no matter what I tried. One day, my aunt told me to cut a potato in half, rub one of the potato halves on the wart and then throw that potato over my shoulder. She claimed the wart would go away if I did this. It was just an old wives' tale I now know, but the funny thing was – it worked! I just wish I had the same luck with the wart on my ring finger, which was quite the ugly sight when my husband proposed to me.
Although anyone at any age can develop warts, they seem to strike more often during childhood and adolescence. Warts are caused by a host of viruses and can spread to other parts of the body or to other people through direct contact, according to Mark Stengler, N.D., author of Your Vital Child: A Natural Healing Guide for Parents and whose practice is based in La Jolla, Calif.
What is a Wart?
"Warts are harmless, small, bumpy mounds of overgrown skin that usually appear on fingers, hands, knees, elbows or toes," says Stengler. "Warts are usually brown or flesh-colored and have rough, dry surfaces."
According to Stengler, experts have identified at least 70 different types of the human papillomavirus (HPV) known to infect the skin and leave warts.
Why They Occur
People can get warts depending on how often they are exposed to the virus, according to the America Academy of Dermatology (AAD). There are some people who are more likely to catch the wart virus than others, just like some people catch colds more easily. Those with a weakened immune system also are more prone to a wart virus infection.
Warts can be passed from person to person, sometimes indirectly. But it is hard to say where and how one gets a wart, as the time from the first contact to the time the warts have grown large enough to be seen is often several months. The risk of catching hand, foot or flat warts from another person is small, according to AAD.
Types of Warts
There are many kinds of warts but a few of the more prominent types are:
These types of warts are usually painless and strike the skin on the hands and fingers. HPV types 2 and 4 cause common warts.
According to AAD, common warts usually appear where skin has been broken, for example, where fingernails are bitten or hangnails picked. This is why they are common in children, who often bite their nails or break skin.
Plantar warts usually occur on the soles of the feet and grow into the skin rather than surfacing as a bump or mound. Planter warts are painful, can attack blood vessels deep in the skin and are caused by HPV type 1, says Stengler.
Plantar warts have a bad reputation because they can be painful, feeling like a stone in the shoe, according to AAD.
Usually occurring in clusters, plane warts are small, flat and are skin-colored. According to AAD, plane warts (also known as flat warts), grow in large numbers from 20 to 100 at any one time. They can occur anywhere, but in children they are most common on the face.
This type of wart affects the genital and anus areas and, hence, is also known as genital warts. They are spread by sexual contact. In children, it can be a sign of sexual abuse, says Stengler.
Genital warts are moist mounds of skin that look like cauliflower and are caused by at least four different types of HPV.
Stengler and the AAD both agree that childhood warts often disappear over time without treatment. However, according to AAD, warts that are bothersome, painful or rapidly multiplying should be treated. Warts in adults often do not disappear as easily or as quickly as they do in children.
Over-the-counter topical acid is used as a conventional treatment for warts. The salicyclic acid works on the skin to slowly peel it away. Stengler says, however, that venereal warts need to be treated by a doctor.
Some warts can be frozen with liquid nitrogen, called cryosurgery, so that the wart cells are destroyed. This treatment is not too painful and usually does not cause scarring. Repeat treatments at one to three week intervals are sometimes necessary to get rid of the wart completely.
"The last resort is to surgically remove a wart," says Stengler. "This may be done for stubborn plantar warts that cause foot pain while a child is walking or standing."
Children's multivitamins can help for immune support. "Choose one that contains selenium, which inhibits viruses from replicating," he says. Stengler and other naturopathic doctors agree that antiviral herbs like Echinacea can help stimulate the immune system's response against the virus that is causing the wart to grow.
The inside of a fresh piece of banana peel taped to a plantar wart with adhesive tape every day for two to four weeks can help, too, because the peel contains a substance that kills warts, says Stengler.
Or you could always try the potato.
Study Finds Duct Tape Successful in Treating Warts
We all know that a little duct tape can fix almost anything, but get rid of warts?
A study, appearing in the journal Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, has found that treating common warts by applying duct tape was more successful than cryotherapy – freezing them off with liquid nitrogen – a more common technique. The study looked at more than 50 patients ages 3 to 22.
Researchers say using duct tape has several advantages over cryotherapy, such as being more practical, less expensive and less threatening to children because it is not painful.
Warts are a common pediatric complaint, occurring in 5 to 10 percent of all pediatric patients, according to the study. Warts are benign growths caused by the human papillomaviruses. The peak incidence is between the ages of 12 and 16 years. Although two-thirds of all warts in children will resolve spontaneously without treatment within two years, patients frequently request treatment to hasten the resolution.
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