What Are Genital Warts?
Weak growths on the genitals are known as genital warts. They can cause irritation, scratching, and pain. Genital warts are a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by low-risk human papillomavirus strains (HPV). These are not to be confused with the high-risk strains that can cause cervical dysplasia and cancer.
HPV is the most prevalent of all sexually transmitted infections. HPV complications, such as genital warts, may affect both men and women who are sexually active. HPV infection is particularly harmful to women because some forms of HPV can cause cervix and vulva cancer.
Symptoms of Genital Warts
Sexual activity, including oral, vaginal, and anal intercourse, can spread genital warts. Warts may not appear for several weeks or months after infection. Warts on the genital area aren’t necessarily visible to one’s eye. They can be tiny and of the same or slightly darker color as the skin. The growth tops can resemble cauliflower and feel smooth or slightly bumpy when touched. They may also appear as a group of warts or as a single wart. Males can develop genital warts in the following areas:
- Around or inside the anus
These warts can occur on females in the following areas:
- Inside the vaginal canal or anus
- Outside the vaginal canal or anus
- On the cervix
An individual who has had oral sexual contact with someone who has HPV may develop genital warts on their lips, mouth, tongue, or throat. Although genital warts aren’t visible, they can cause symptoms like:
- Discharge from the cervix
- Swellings in your genital region that are tiny, flesh-colored, brown, or pink
Causes of Genital Warts
HPV is the most common cause of genital warts. There are 30 to 40 HPV strains that affect the genitals directly, but only a few of these strains cause genital warts.
Since the HPV virus is highly contagious by skin-to-skin touch, it is classified as a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
HPV strains that cause genital warts are normally different from those that cause warts on your hands or other parts of your body. A wart cannot spread from a person’s hand to his or her genitals and vice versa.
Risk Factors of Genital Warts
Anyone who engages in sexual activity is at risk of contracting HPV. Genital warts, on the other hand, are more common in people who:
- are under the age of 30
- being sexually active at a young age
- have a weakened immune system
- have a history of child abuse
- are the children of a mother who contracted the virus while giving birth
Complications of Genital Warts
HPV infection in the genital area has been attributed to cervical cancer. Cancers of the vulva, anus, penis, mouth, and throat are also linked to some forms of HPV. While HPV infection does not always result in cancer, women must have frequent pap tests, particularly if they have been infected with higher-risk HPV forms.
Warts will sometimes swell during pregnancy, making it difficult to urinate. Warts on the vaginal wall will prevent the vaginal tissues from stretching during childbirth. When stretched during delivery, large warts on the vulva or in the vagina will bleed.
How to Diagnose Genital Warts
Appearance is most times used to diagnose genital warts. Your doctor will inquire about your well-being and sexual history to diagnose this disorder. This covers any signs you’ve had and whether or not you’ve had sex, including oral sex without the use of condoms or oral dams.
Regular pelvic exams and pap tests are critical for women because they can detect vaginal and cervical changes induced by genital warts or early signs of cervical cancer. During a pap examination, the doctor holds your vagina open with a speculum to examine the passage between your vagina and your uterus (cervix). They would then take a small sample of cells from the cervix, using a long-handled instrument. A microscope is used to look for defects in the cells.
Cervical cancer has only been linked to a few types of genital HPV. These cancer-causing HPV strains can be examined in a sample of cervical cells taken during a pap test.
This test is usually only given to women over the age of 30. It isn’t as effective for younger women since HPV usually goes away on its own.
How to Treat Genital Warts
Some treatments can help manage genital warts. You don’t need treatments if your warts are not causing discomfort. However, if you’re experiencing itching, burning, or discomfort, or if you’re worried about spreading the infection, your doctor can prescribe antibiotics or perform surgery to help you clear an outbreak.
Medications for Genital Warts
Imiquimod (Aldara, Zyclara)
This cream boosts the strength of your immune system to battle genital warts. You should avoid sexual contact after you apply this cream to your skin. Condoms and diaphragms may be weakened, and your partner’s skin may be irritated. Skin redness is one potential side effect. Blisters, body aches or pains, a cough, rashes, and fatigue are also possible side effects.
Podophyllin and Podofilox (Condylox)
Podophyllin is a plant-based resin that kills the tissue that causes genital warts. The active compound in Podophylin is the same as in Podofilox, so it can be applied at home. Internal use of Podofilox is not recommended. Furthermore, this drug is not recommended for use during pregnancy. Mild skin irritation, sores, and discomfort are all possible side effects.
This chemical procedure can be used to remove genital warts, as well as internal warts. Mild skin irritation, sores, and discomfort are all possible side effects.
Surgery may be needed to remove larger warts, as some warts don’t respond to medications. Here are some surgical options:
An electrical current is used to burn off warts in this process. You may experience some pain and swelling after the treatment.
Cryosurgery (Freezing of Warts)
The freezing method works by forming a blister around your wart. The lesions slough off as the skin heals, revealing fresh skin underneath. You may need to repeat the procedure. Pressure and swelling are the most common side effects.
This method, which uses an intense beam of light, is costly and normally reserved for warts that are large and difficult to treat. Scarring and discomfort are possible side effects.
How to Prevent Genital Warts
Genital warts can be avoided by limiting the number of sexual partners you have and getting vaccinated. It’s a good idea to use a condom any time you have sex, but it won’t necessarily prevent you from genital warts.
The Food and Drug Administration has approved three HPV vaccines. Gardasil 9 is the most recent vaccine to be approved for use in males and females aged 9 to 45 to prevent cervical cancer and genital warts. The vaccination should be administered to both girls and boys before they have sexual contact. Soreness at the injection site, headaches, a low-grade fever, or flu-like symptoms are common side effects of the vaccines.
Now that you Know…
Genital warts are a normal and treatable complication of HPV infection. They will go away on their own, but treatment is necessary to prevent them from reappearing and causing complications. Consult your doctor if you suspect you have genital warts. They will tell you if you have warts and what treatment options are right for you. It’s also important to communicate with your sexual partner. Although it may seem discouraging, being honest about your condition will help you protect your partner from contracting HPV and developing genital warts.