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Ask Claire: 5 Best Ways to Treat Warts

My 2 1/2-year-old has a huge wart on his hand. What's the best way to treat it?

Warts, which are caused by the human papillomavirus, are incredibly common. They aren't serious, but they can sometimes be uncomfortable (depending on where they are) and embarrassing for older children. A toddler probably won't pay it much mind. Although they often go away by themselves, there are some ways to hurry that process along at home and at the doctor's office.

Salicylic acid

This is widely available in drugstores, both in solutions that can be painted onto the wart and in little acid-soaked pads that are put over the wart and covered with a bandage. They work pretty well, but even with daily use, it can take months before the wart disappears. Rubbing the wart lightly with an emery board before treatment can help. Try to put the medicine only on the wart, and stop for a few days if there is redness or irritation around it.

Duct tape

Place a piece over the wart, and change daily. This sounds weird, but it actually works about as well as salicylic acid.


There have been studies suggesting that rubbing a clove of garlic on the wart every night and then covering it with a bandage can help it go away quicker.

Freezing (cryotherapy)

The doctor can use a cotton swab dipped in liquid nitrogen or something similar to freeze off the wart. This is usually painless, but repeated treatments are often needed, and it's not necessarily more effective than salicylic acid or home therapy.


This is another doctor-applied liquid that essentially burns off the wart. There are additional treatments, such as other chemicals that can be painted on or even removing the wart using a laser or surgery, but they are rarely necessary.

Claire McCarthy, M.D., is an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. Send her your questions at