Genital warts are caused by some types of the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) virus. Genital warts are spread by vaginal, anal and oral sex. Genital warts is one of the most common STIs in Ireland.
Symptoms of genital warts
Many HPV infections are invisible and have no symptoms. If you have symptoms, it might include:
- Warts or lumps on the vagina, penis, testicles, scrotum, anus, urethra and thighs
- Discharge may also be present
- 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
- Warts can appear in the throat, but this is rare
The symptoms usually appear from two or three weeks to two or three months after unprotected sex. They grow faster during pregnancy or if there is another infection.
If they are untreated, they can grow and become uncomfortable.
Treatment for genital warts
Talk to your doctor or go to an STI clinic. for a diagnosis of the infection. There is no cure for HPV once you have it, but it is possible to treat the warts.
Once you have the virus, the warts might come back at a later stage in your life, and you'll need to get treatment again.
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 sixteen 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.
Keeping the area clean and dry
You can help yourself by keeping the skin clean and dry, using Calendula cream and taking salt baths. 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.
Many doctors recommend against smoking for people with genital warts, as people who smoke seem to take longer to clear the wart virus.
What happens if you don’t treat genital warts?
If you don't get treatment for genital warts. you may experience a lot of pain and discomfort.
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?
You can 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: The age of sexual consent in Ireland is 17. If you're over 16, you can consent to medical treatment including any treatment or tests needed.