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Ask Dr. Sears: Banishing Warts

Q. My child has a wart on her finger. Should I have it removed, or is it safe just to leave it?

A. Many kids get warts at some time in their lives, often on their hands or feet. They're caused by a virus, seldom itch or are bothersome, and generally go away on their own  -- though usually not for a year or two.

But if the wart's unsightly or causes discomfort, or if it's on an area that interferes with such activities as throwing a ball or holding a pencil, it's time to get it removed.

A simple home treatment: duct tape. Apply a piece just big enough to cover the wart and leave it on for five to seven days. Then soak the area and peel off the tape. Next, with an emery board, gently remove the wart's dead skin (the white, pliable skin at its top). Now reapply a new piece of tape for another week. Repeat as needed  -- it might take four to six weeks for the wart to disappear completely. (If the tape comes off too soon, just put a new piece on.)

If this doesn't work, try an over-the-counter wart-removal product. These contain salicylic acid as a paste, liquid, or patch. Follow directions  -- they're fine for kids ages 2 and up. Since they can irritate normal skin, apply to the wart only. You may need to use these products for two or three months to prevent recurrence.

You can also have your doctor freeze the wart off with liquid nitrogen  -- a treatment called cryotherapy. Using a cotton swab, the doctor applies this for 10 to 15 seconds. That stuns the wart, so it stops growing; a few days later, it becomes a blister, and then dries up and falls off. The treatment is painful  -- ask your pediatrician about using a numbing cream beforehand, which will help somewhat. And it may take a few treatments  -- typically administered in one- to three-week intervals  -- before the wart disappears entirely.