Say genital warts to just about anyone and they’re likely to have some form of association; whether they know someone that has experienced them or they have once contracted the infection themselves. The thing is, although they’re not a topic of discussion at the dinner table, genital warts are common. In fact, they’re a common sexually transmitted infection (STI) with almost all sexually active people at risk of contracting the human papillomavirus (HPV) that causes genital warts at some point in their life .
The strains of HPV that cause genital warts are referred to as low-risk strains, this means that despite the discomfort that may come along with the infection, they can often go away on their own, without treatment, and very rarely cause further complications. As the name suggests, genital warts typically appear in the genital area, however, they can develop in the mouth or throat. Common symptoms of genital warts include:
- Flesh-colored swellings in the genital area
- Itching or discomfort
- Bleeding during intercourse
Related article: The Different Types of HPV: What You Should Know
What causes genital warts?
The virus which causes genital warts is HPV. There are over 100 types of the HPV virus but around 40 of these strains can affect the genital area.
In nearly every case of genital warts, the infection is spread through sexual contact with somebody who has the infection, this includes oral sex, vaginal and anal sex. It’s important to note that warts don’t have to be visible for the infection to spread and they can affect both men and women.
Related article: What Is HPV?
What is the best treatment for genital warts?
While there is no cure for the virus that causes genital warts, there are a number of ways to treat genital warts which can help ease the symptoms; the type of treatment will be entirely dependent on your circumstances so this will be something to discuss with your doctor.
Some common forms of treatment include:
- Creams or solutions such as Zyclara or Condylox can be applied directly to the skin to help ease symptoms and encourage healing.
- Surgery to remove the warts may be considered by your healthcare provider. This will typically involve cutting, burning, or using a laser to remove the warts.
- Freezing genital warts, also known as Cryotherapy, freezes warts with liquid nitrogen. The frequency will depend on both the size and thickness of the warts.
It’s important to avoid any perfumed soaps, gels, or creams as they can irritate the skin further. Also, don’t forget to let your doctor know if you’re pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant; certain treatments may not be suitable.
How long do genital warts last?
Most genital warts can go away on their own without treatment, however as mentioned above, each case of genital warts is different, and how long they last can vary from person to person.
According to Harvard Health Publishing, they can last anywhere between a few months or a few years, and if you do receive treatment, it may take a few weeks or months for it to work. In some instances, warts can return after being removed.
Related article: Why is it Important to Check For HPV?
Are genital warts curable?
While there is no cure for HPV, your body can clear the virus from your body within a short few years and your body can fight the virus over time. As a matter of fact, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine, for 90 percent of women with HPV, the virus clears itself within 2 years .
Are genital warts a serious problem?
While genital warts can be considered a genital HPV infection, they can be compared to other warts you might find on your body in one particular way - while they can be irritating, they are usually painless and harmless.
As mentioned above, genital warts can be treated, however, they can also go away on their own without treatment. If they don’t go away on their own, it can lead to more irritation and it can also increase the risk of passing warts on to others with who you may have sexual contact.
Can you prevent genital warts?
There are a few important steps that you can take towards reducing your risk of contracting HPV, the first being: get vaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend the HPV vaccination at the age of 11 or 12, if you have not yet been vaccinated, reach out to your doctor to discuss your options .
If you are sexually active, it’s important to use protection the right way during sex, regularly check in on your sexual health, and encourage your partner(s) to do so too.
If you currently have genital warts, it may be advised not to avoid sexual activity until the warts have completely cleared. However, it’s important to discuss this with your health care provider, as we said, everyone’s experience and situation is unique!
Related article: Can You Have Sex With HPV?
One of the most reliable ways to avoid any complications associated with HPV is through regular testing - this can be done with your doctor or from home with an at-home HPV test.
LetsGetChecked’s at-home HPV test detects high-risk strains of cervical cancer. It involves a simple cervical swab sample and online results will be available within 2-5 days. Should you have any questions throughout the process, our dedicated clinical team is there to offer a helping hand, explain your results, and take you through any recommended next steps. This test is not a replacement for regular cervical (pap) smear tests.
You should take the test if*:
- You have had skin to skin contact with someone who is carrying the HPV virus
- You have had unprotected sex
- You have not received an HPV vaccine
*It is important to discuss this test with your doctor if you are outside the recommended age for HPV screening programs.