Treatment and Removal of Plantar Warts - Kids' Foot Health
School-age kids can come home with some pretty gross stuff like body odor and head lice, but in my book none of these make my stomach twist and turn as much as plantar warts. They are ugly, persistent and hurtful little buggers. If you haven’t dealt with them before then this article will attempt to arm you with what lies ahead from a parent’s perspective. After 2 of my 3 kids had them—one of them twice—we picked up some good tips for plantar wart home remedies and prevention.
What are Plantar Warts?
Children with plantar warts will tell you that every step feels like they are walking on a small stone. I feel bad remembering the first time my daughter developed one of these. I didn’t know about plantar warts at the time and assumed it was just like any other wart. I initially didn’t even worry too much when she complained—she has a very low pain tolerance and I assumed it was more of a nuisance than anything else. It wasn’t until the complaints persisted that I realized something else was going on and I began sleuthing. I quickly learned that plantar warts are MUCH more painful that regular warts.
Plantar warts are flat pea-sized warts that show up on the bottom of your kid’s feet. They have a surface appearance of cauliflower and can sprout black thread-like veins in the middle. To make things worse, they are both contagious and painful. Plantar warts are fairly common and affect 10-20% of school-age kids.
How Do You Get Plantar Warts?
Plantar Warts are caused by a virus that can be transferred by surface connection. The virus needs a way to get into the skin, which can be cuts, scrapes, dry cracks or skin that is wet and softened after a long swim or bath. Kids who spend a lot of time barefoot (which we encourage for healthy foot development) can contract them from playground surfaces that were used by other children carrying the virus on their feet. I believe my kids picked them up at the local pool swim deck or locker room since theirs both appeared a few weeks after swim lessons started. Adults can get them, too, although kids are more susceptible as they have less built-up immunities. Also, anyone with weakened immune systems are more susceptible.
How Do You Get Rid of Plantar Warts?
According to medical experts, plantar warts can go away on their own after 1-2 years, but I have yet to meet a parent who made it that long without seeking a faster remedy. Fortunately, there are many plantar wart home remedies you can try. Of course, you should always consult with your doctor first to make sure it isn’t something other than a wart and to rule out other concerns about your child’s health that could be causing the growth. Also, many of the following solutions should NOT be used by anyone with weakened immune systems, diabetes or other serious health conditions without seeking a doctors advice.
1. Freeze it off (Cryotherapy)
This is the method my family found to be the best and most effective. While doctors may offer to do it professionally, you can also purchase over-the-counter products to do it yourself at home like we did. Check out Compound W Freeze Off or Dr. Scholl's Freeze Away, which come with topical applicators and simple instructions (we found it best to apply after a scrubbing bath, as described below). This freeze method will take anywhere from 1–5 applications over 1–2 weeks to completely kill the wart. This is a relatively fast process compared to other treatments, although your child may find the cold sensation to be a little painful.
2. Chemical Peel
Again, you can have this done by a doctor or you can do it at home with over-the-counter products like Compound W, which sells a variety of salicylic acid peeling products for treating the warts. This is almost the same as the freeze method above, but has the advantage of being less traumatizing to apply to your child’s foot since it is not cold. The downside is that it takes longer to fully remove the wart—between 3-6 weeks.
3. Other Chemical Cauterization
Other topical wart treatments include the use of zinc, silver nitrate or cantharidin (derived from Blister Beetles) applied as an ointment. One suggested natural remedy uses a “smoke box” with smoke from burnt medicinal leaves like populus euphratica. These treatments are sometimes offered in your practitioner's office or can be done at home. They are generally acknowledged as being less successful as cryotherapy or salicylic acid, but may be considered a less invasive and more natural first approach to treatment.
4. Duct Tape
I felt I should include this home remedy for plantar warts since it is all over the internet and purportedly works for some, but it had zero, zilch, nada effect at our house despite valiant attempts by my 4th grader. Basically, you cover the wart with silver duct tape for 5-6 days, then do the soak/scrape method described below. Let the foot rest for 12 hours, reapply the duct tape and repeat the process. Personally, I don’t understand why creating a non-breathable, sweaty environment for the wart would work and it seemed more like wishing it to go away. Other people seem to think it works, though.
5. Surgical Procedures
More intense options include electrical cauterizing or laser treatment by a doctor. Your pediatrician may refer you to a podiatrist with better access to specialized equipment for the process. Local anesthesia is usually employed. For obvious reasons, this is usually considered a more extreme last resort.
Except for surgical removal, most of the above approaches will require a little time and patience for the virus to die and for the skin to slough off. A few days after starting the treatment, I found giving my children long, hot baths would speed the removal process by softening the dying skin on the wart. While in the tub, gently rub the wart with a pumice stone or emery board, but be warned that this may be painful for the child. I found it better to let my kids scrub it themselves. I purchased a pack of small disposable pumice-like scrubbers and a box of disposable gloves to use when treating the wart so I would not spread the virus further. Kids will naturally start picking at the wart in the tub with their fingernails, but this is strongly discouraged as it may cause more contamination. Make sure they wash their hand and fingernails carefully if they touch it, or try to get them to wear sanitary gloves! Reapplication of the cyrotherapy or salicylic acid method is generally most effective on a completely dry foot after a bath/scrub session.
What a plantar wart looks like when it comes out:
After a few weeks of therapy, the wart will be dead - dry and calloused looking- and the whole thing will come out in the bath with some gentle rubbing like a button. Be prepared: there will be a deep hole in the bottom of your child’s foot where the wart comes out and it looks really freaky! It might even make you gag (a lot). Stay calm, though, even though the hole looks painful, it usually is not as what you are seeing is clean, new skin that has grown around the dead virus. Within a few days the foot should completely heal and the hole will have faded to a distant, unsettling memory.
How to Prevent Plantar Warts
Follow these tips to reduce the risk of plantar warts for your child:
- Make sure your kids understand that touching the warts with their hands can spread them.
- If they do touch a planter wart, immediately wash their hands carefully with soap and water.
- Use disposable emery boards or other scrubbers when sloughing off the wart so you can throw it away when done and reduce the risk of further contamination.
- Keep your kids' feet clean and dry with fresh socks and alternating pairs of shoes. Breathable shoes, which are always important for foot health and to reduce foot odor, are especially effective in this case.
- Get your child shoes or sandals that can be worn in public showers or around swimming pools.
- Beware of potentially infectious environments. In our case, I talked to the local pool director when I realized the plantar warts returned the next year at the same time swimming season started. It turned out my family wasn't the only one! Pool deck and locker room cleaning processes were improved at our pool and she recently informed me that reported incidences have evaporated.
With these easy precautions and a little luck, you may never encounter plantar warts in your family. If they do appear, however, then I hope these tips will save you a little time and detective work for finding a solution.
We hope your kids' feet stay happy all year long!