There are a whole host of issues that can plague the human body. One of them that can be particularly scary or unpleasant is genital warts. This condition is a sexually transmitted infection, and is caused by the Human Pappilloma Virus, or HPV. There is no cure, and the growths come and go in rounds, or “outbreaks,” throughout a person’s life. If you are experiencing genital warts, you may be terrified that things will never be the same for you, or that your quality of living will decrease dramatically. In reality, living with genital warts doesn’t have to be a disaster.
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What They Are And How To Spot Them
Genital warts, by definition, are growths caused by a specific strain of virus known as HPV. Affecting millions of people every year, the virus is spread primarily through sexual contact.
Some things to remember about genital warts:
Location: True to their name, genital warts are always located on the genital region. They can be found on the vagina, urethra, clitoris, cervix, anus, penis, scrotum, and groin. You can also have warts on the buttocks. The one exception to this is the mouth, which can get genital warts through oral sex. Genital warts occur in men as well as women.HPV is contagious even if you aren’t having a breakout.
- Appearance: Genital warts are different than warts elsewhere on your body, like your hand or foot. While a plantar wart on your foot is flat and calloused, a genital wart is raised and clustered. As for size, they can range from tiny, to larger than an eraser head. And don’t worry, you can’t spread a plantar or common wart to your genital region, as they are caused by completely different viruses.
- Genital warts vs. pimples: While they both have to do with blemishes on the skin, genital warts are caused by a virus and are far more raised up in the skin than pimples, which will have redness to them and usually a white or black head. Some may wonder if genital warts have pus like a pimple does. This is something unique to pimples alone, as warts don’t have bacteria growing in them that would cause the pus. Also, you can’t pop a wart like you can a pimple, so don’t try it, as it can just cause damage to your skin.
- Genital warts vs. ingrown hair: An ingrown hair will cause more discomfort than a genital wart will, and will have redness surrounding the bump it makes in your skin. It won’t be as raised as a wart, with no defined borders or edges.
- Genital warts vs. herpes: Both HPV and herpes are sexually transmitted infections. However, herpes causes blisters on the genitals that end up popping and turning into ulcers that are painful and irritating. Don’t worry about genital warts hurting, as they are generally painless.
Know that if you are HIV positive, HIV might make your genital warts somewhat more severe.
The Various Types Of Genital Warts
All genital warts aren’t created equal. They can come in an array of sizes, shapes, and colors. Usually, you can diagnose them yourself. If you’re wondering how long it takes for genital warts to appear, you can expect anywhere from a few weeks after exposure, to 3 months.
What they might look like:
Mild: Just because you have a breakout, it doesn’t mean your genitals are going to be absolutely covered in warts. Many people experience a small number of them during a breakout that usually aren’t too bothersome. Also, genital wart symptoms tend to be mild as well.Information
Genital warts, for the most part, don’t produce a large amount of symptoms. Most aren’t painful, but are more of just a nuisance than anything else. If there are physical symptoms, they usually include mild itching, discomfort, and increased vaginal discharge.
- Groupings of genital warts: One characteristic of genital warts is that they most often appear in clusters.
- Tiny warts: Sometimes you may find a growth so small you wonder if it could possibly count as a genital wart. Even though most warts range from 1-2 millimeters in diameter, they can be always be smaller or larger than that. Ones as tiny as a pinhead can creep up on you and yes, they are genital warts as well.
Find more detailed information about early genital warts and flat genital warts here.
- Cauliflower appearance: Something unique about genital warts is their surface. Most often, the top of them are raised and bumpy with a clumpy-looking top, similar to the head of a cauliflower.
- Smooth surface: Not all genital warts have a bumpy surface to them. There are times you’ll find them with a smooth and even surface.
- Condyloma: The official name for a genital wart is Condyloma Acuminatum. This refers to everything from urethral warts, to anal warts, to penile.
HPV is behind it
Normally, your body’s immune system fights off a virus to rid your body of it, like when you have the cold or flu. But there are certain viruses that your body just can’t get rid of, one being HPV. This, unfortunately, means that there is no cure for genital warts.
How Do You Get Them?
Genital warts are almost always contracted through sexual contact. And HPV is sneaky – it can get at you easier than you may realize.
- The way a virus works
Once you are infected, the virus settles into epithelial cells in the upper layer of the genital skin. There it will lay dormant, or inactive, for a period of time until becoming active again. It will then replicate, growing until a mass of cells breaks through the skin as a wart. An outbreak can last anywhere from weeks to months, with the average time in between outbreaks ranging from a few months to a couple of years.
- Sexual contact
Genital warts are almost always contracted sexually, when your genitals come in contact with your partner’s. If your partner is infected with HPV, the viral particles in their epithelial layers will rub off with their skin cells and penetrate into your skin, infecting you with the virus as well.
When it comes to oral sex, your partner can spread it to your genitals if they’ve contracted it in their mouth. It can also be spread the other way, from genitals to the mouth. One way that genital warts do NOT spread is by touching with your hands.
Getting genital warts without having sex
Can you get genital warts without being sexually active? Even though it’s extremely rare, there are special circumstances where you may contract HPV without any kind of sexual contact.
- Fomite transmission: This happens when your genitals come in contact with infected epithelial cells without any kind of sexual act involved. This may happen if you wear an infected person’s dirty underwear, or use their same towel right after they touch their genitals with it.
- Mother to child: In extremely rare instances, a baby passing through the birth canal of an infected mother can contract HPV. If you’re pregnant, remember to always discuss your genital warts with a doctor so they can monitor your condition and plan appropriately.
Click here for more details about genital warts in children.
There are some interesting facts when it comes to genital warts during pregnancy. Find them here.
Why do I care?
Even though genital warts don’t usually hurt, they still come with several problems. Sometimes genital warts itch or cause excess vaginal discharge. If you’re wondering whether or not genital warts cause cancer, know that they do increase your rate of certain types. Further details can be found here. Cervical, anal, and penile cancers all increase dramatically in those infected with HPV. If you’ve contracted genital warts in the mouth, your chance of oral cancer increases as well. Good monitoring of these areas and regular consulting with a physician can prevent cancer from going undetected. And there’s good news — when these cancers are caught at their earliest stages, they’re almost always treatable.
Although most genital warts go away on their own without treatment, there are times in which you may need to seek medical intervention. Urethral warts that grow out of control can block the urethra and cause serious complications. Cervical warts should be seen by a physician since they have a higher-than-normal chance of contributing to cancer.
So you’ve got genital warts… what are you going to do now? Fortunately, you can get rid of them, and there are several options to choose from when it comes to genital wart treatment and management. They range from freezing genital warts, to cutting them directly out of the skin.
- Surgery (excision),
- Laser therapy,
- Topical creams and gels.
Stop them before they start
Once you find out about your HPV, it is important to discuss them with any sexual partner, as it affects their life as well. Although sex with genital warts may be more of a challenge, always use honest communication, and practice safe sex. Condoms won’t completely stop the spread of HPV, but they do offer some protection.
Something for a person to consider before ever becoming sexually active is the genital warts vaccine called Gardasil. Read more here. This injection was developed to protect against the strains of HPV that cause the warts, and is given to both boys and girls ages 9-26. Not only will this stop you from getting genital warts in the first place, it protects against the cancers that are more prevalent in those with HPV.
Wondering whether genital warts will go away? Find answers here.
If you’re worried about genital warts, do your research. For those who haven’t contracted them, make sure to always take precautionary measures that would help you avoid HPV altogether. If you think you already have genital warts, don’t worry – there’s options. With some extra steps and effort, not only can you have a normal life, you can have a great one, as fulfilling and enjoyable as anyone else’s!