Genital warts

Condoms are the ONLY form of contraceptive that protects against sexual infections.


Genital warts are caused by some types of the Human Papilloma Virus (or wart virus). Genital warts are spread by vaginal, anal and oral sex. The number of people infected with genital warts is rising in Ireland and it is one of the most common STIs here.

What are the symptoms?

  • Many HPV infections are invisible and have no symptoms.
  • Warts or lumps will be present on the vagina, penis, testicles, scrotum, anus, urethra and thighs. Discharge may also be present.
  • Warts can appear in the throat, but this is rare.
  • Genital warts are soft to touch and can be itchy. Some warts are painful and some are painless.
  • The warts can be very small and go unnoticed. 
  • There may only be one wart present or there may be a cluster of them.
  • If they are untreated, they can grow and become uncomfortable.
  • The symptoms usually appear from two or three weeks to two or three months after unprotected sex.
  • They grow more quickly in women during pregnancy or if there is another infection.

What treatment can you get?

Talk to your doctor for a diagnosis of the infection. There is no cure for HPV. The warts can be treated with different treatments, but once you have the virus they might come back at a later stage in your life. Your doctor can give you a prescription cream to apply on the warts.

Creams tend to take a while to work: anything from four to 16 weeks. The warts can also be removed in a clinic. This involves freezing the warts with liquid nitrogen over the course of a few weeks. The warts will then crust over and eventually fall off. The warts can be lasered off too, but this is expensive, takes time to heal and could spread the virus. These treatments may be painful.

Self help

  • You can help yourself by keeping the skin clean and dry, using Calendula cream and taking salt baths.
  • The Well Woman Centre of Ireland also recommends using yoga, massage and other relaxation therapies.
  • Many doctors recommend against smoking for people with genital warts, as people who smoke seem to take longer to clear the wart virus.
  • Since the warts are infectious, avoid touching them and use gloves to put on ointment or cream. Try to avoid picking at or squeezing them.

What happens if you don’t treat genital warts?

  • You may experience a lot of pain and discomfort.
  • You may have another infection you do not know about. If you have genital warts, you are more likely to have another STI. If you don’t treat the genital warts, you may be leaving yourself vulnerable to another STI.
  • They can cause problems in pregnancy. Labour can be difficult if there are warts present. The baby can also become infected if it comes into contact with the warts during labour, which can cause a serious condition called recurrent respiratory papillomatosis.

How can you prevent genital warts?

By using condoms during vaginal sex, oral sex and anal sex. Unfortunately even condoms don't guarantee full protection against warts or Herpes as you can be infected by contact with skin not covered by the condom. Warts are extremely contagious and two thirds of people who have sex with an infected partner will develop them. If you notice that your partner has warts or sore lumps around the genitals, avoid sex and get them to see a doctor as soon as possible.

Remember that the age of sexual consent in the Republic of Ireland is 17 and the age of sexual consent in Northern Ireland is 16.

Further information

Irish Family Planning Association

Think Contraception
This is a source of information for men and women living in Ireland who want to learn more about their sexual and reproductive health, especially contraception.

Your Sexual Health
Your Sexual Health, a website which is full of useful advice on safer sex, infomation on contraception and links to other informative sites.

STI/GUM Clinics:

Youth Health Service,           021 4220490/1
Cork City

Gay Men's Health Project,   01 6699553
Dublin 4

GUIDE Clinic,                         01 4162315
St. James Hospital, Dublin 8

Mater Hospital,                      01 8032063
Dublin 7

Regional Hospital,               051 842646
Waterford City

General Hospital,                 051 842646
Clonmel, Co Tipperary

District Hospital,                   051 842646

Victoria Hospital,                 021 4966844
Cork City

Regional Hospital,              021 4966844
Tralee, Co Kerry

Regional Hospital,             061 482382
Limerick City

General Hospital,               061 482382
Nenagh, Co Tipperary

General Hospital,              061 482382
Ennis, Co Clare

General Hospital,             094 9021733 (extension 2456)
Castlebar, Co Mayo

University Hospital,         091525200
Galway City

Portiuncula Hospital,       090 9648372 (extension 676)
Ballinalsoe, Co Galway   

Regional Hospital,          071 9170473
Sligo Town

Altnagalvin Hospital,      028 71611269 (048 from RoI)
Derry City

Coleraine Hospital,        028 703460248 (048 from RoI)
Co Derry

Royal Victoria Hospital,   028 90634050 (048 from RoI)
Belfast City

Daisy Hill Hospital,         028 30835050 (048 from RoI)
Newry, Co Down

Tags: sti sexually transmitted infections sexual health

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Published February 27, 2013
Updated November 12, 2014
  • Genital warts
  • All you need to know about genital warts.
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