Anyone can get plantar warts, including children. These growths are relatively common, and between 10% and 20% of children and teenagers have them. Here’s a look at what these are, what causes plantar warts, and how to treat them.
What Is A Wart?
Warts are a family of noncancerous rough bumps that can appear anywhere on the skin. You may see them on hands and fingers, the face, the genital area, and the feet. Warts of all kinds develop from the human papillomavirus (HPV), when the virus enters a break in the skin and causes an infection. Because children get a lot of cuts, they are prone to developing warts on their hands and feet. People with weakened immune systems or who have an autoimmune disease (such as diabetes) are also susceptible to getting warts from HPV.
What Is A Plantar Wart?
Plantar warts are benign warts on the soles, heels, or balls of your feet—the plantar surfaces. Plantar warts may also form on or between the toes. You may see a rough bump on the bottom of your child’s foot, or your child may complain of discomfort when walking due to pressure on the plantar wart. Because the plantar wart is caused by the human papillomavirus, it is contagious.
Pressure on the plantar wart can cause calluses to form over the wart, leading the plantar wart to grow inward. If your child develops plantar warts in a cluster, this is called mosaic warts. Although harmless, they can become uncomfortable.
Plantar Wart Causes
Like all warts, plantar wart causes come down to one situation: the human papillomavirus getting into the skin through cuts or scrapes. It can take two to six months after direct exposure to HPV for the plantar wart to form.
Plantar warts spread from direct skin-to-skin contact with the virus, by touching the wart and another part of the body, or by sharing clothing (socks and shoes) or towels. Since viruses like wet, warm environments, your child can pick up the virus at a public pool, locker room shower (or your home shower), or sauna or steam room—moist places where your child’s feet will be bare. But the plantar warts can be caused by walking barefoot on infected surfaces in general.
If your child is active in sports at school or an athletic facility, it’s a good idea to have them wear flip-flops or other foot protection in the shower or on the gym floor. Of course, there are certain sports where this is not possible, such as gymnastics or martial arts. That said, plantar warts are not dangerous and will generally clear up over time, although they can take one or two years to resolve.
Identifying A Plantar Wart
Symptoms to help you identify a plantar wart are:
- Rough, thick bump or surface on the bottom of the feet or on or between the toes
- Discoloration at the site (this can be yellow, dark pink, purple, brown, or grey)
- Brown or black specks on the wart (from dried blood clots)
- Pain or tenderness upon touching or walking
Your healthcare provider will diagnose a plantar wart by examining the bumps or cutting off the top layer with a scalpel to check for specks. A biopsy and test for HPV may help to identify a plantar wart in some cases properly.
If the plantar wart breaks open (which increases infection risk), changes colors, the site looks infected, or the plantar warts spread, contact your child’s physician right away for an examination and treatment plan. The same goes if your child says that standing or walking is getting difficult.
Treating A Plantar Wart
There are several ways of treating a plantar wart and most are non-invasive, in-office topical treatments. In some cases, minor surgery may be necessary.
Laser Removal Of Plantar Warts
Laser removal of plantar warts involves administering laser light and heat to burn and destroy the tiny blood vessels inside the wart. This cuts off the blood supply so that the infected tissue dies and the wart falls off. Laser treatments must be repeated every two to four weeks until the plantar wart is gone.
Freezing Plantar Warts
Also called cryotherapy, freezing plantar warts is done in the healthcare provider’s office. The practitioner applies liquid nitrogen to the wart; this extreme cold causes a blister to form around it. Within a week or two, the dead tissue will slough off. Your child may need repeat treatments every two to three weeks. This freezing method can be painful. At The Pediatric Orthopedic Center, we numb the area first. There may also be permanent changes in skin color in the area.
Acid Treatments For Plantar Warts
Salicylic acid is a prescription-strength medication that peels away layers of the plantar wart by breaking down the thick skin. After our orthopedists evaluate the plantar wart, they will recommend the appropriate percentage of salicylic acid for the most efficient treatment. After several weeks, you will be able to scrub off or pull out the plantar wart.
Other Treatments And Self-Care Tips
If the treatments listed above do not work, other plantar wart treatment options include electrocautery (using an electric current to burn off the planter wart), a blistering medication called cantharidin, minor surgery to cut out the wart, and immunotherapy with an injection or topical solution (the goal is to help the body fight HPV).
While your child is being treated for plantar warts, be sure they wear comfortable shoes and socks; footwear should not put a lot of pressure on the foot. Remind kids to:
- Avoid touching the plantar wart
- Wash their hands with warm water and antibacterial soap if they have touched it.
- Thoroughly clean their feet (top, bottom, and in between toes) when they bathe
- Completely dry their feet after swimming, bathing, or showering
- Avoid sharing towels or washcloths, socks and shoes, nail clippers, and other items that come in contact with their feet
- Always wear clean socks (cotton, wool, or materials that wick away moisture are best)
- Pack sandals or flip-flops in their gym bag to wear in the shower or locker room
Cleaning your child’s shoes with disinfecting sprays or wipes will help avoid further infection or spreading. If you have been using any exfoliating tools to scrape away dead skin on your child’s plantar wart, discard them or thoroughly clean them.