Genital warts are the result of a sexually transmitted infection known as Human Papilloma Virus. Many people will contract this virus in their life, although not all will get the strain of it that causes genital warts. For those who do end up with the growths, there can be consequences such as itching, a more complicated sex life, and even an increase in the chance of certain types of cancer. Many people with the warts will have questions about them, including whether or not they’ll ever be rid of them.
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Will Genital Warts Be There Forever?
HPV, the virus that causes genital warts, has no cure. This means that once the viral particles are introduced into your body, there is no way to get rid of them. The virus will settle into the epithelial cells of your genitals and lay inactive and dormant. Suddenly, sometimes in response to a stressor such as an illness, the virus will activate, replicating until turning into a growth that comes out of the skin.
Genital warts can vary, but tend to share certain characteristics:
- Usually have a cauliflower-shape to them,
- Tend to grow in clusters,
- Normally painless.
Do not mistake a mole, pimple, or ingrown hair for a genital wart. To find out more about how an ingrown hair compares to an HPV wart, go here.
Once an outbreak has begun, the warts will grow until a certain size, whether large or very small, then stop growing. Even though HPV has no cure, the good news is that genital warts do not stay on your body forever.
Going away the natural way
The most natural, non-invasive way to remove genital-warts problem is to let them go away on their own. When the HPV is active in the skin and causing the growths, it will run its course and replicate underneath the skin. Your body will attack the virus causing the growths until it’s deactivated, causing the warts to slowly get smaller and smaller, disappearing until gone completely. The downside is that letting the genital warts go away on their own takes longer than the results that come with treatment. If you choose to go with this longer option, make sure that you do not scratch or pick at the genital warts, as it may cause them to bleed and become painful.
How Long Do I Have to Wait?
Once you are infected with HPV from a sexual partner, it may take anywhere from weeks to months for the warts to begin growing on your body. When the virus becomes inactive and the warts begin to shrink, on average, the amount of time it takes for a genital wart caused by HPV to go away on its own is around three to six months. In some (more rare) cases, the warts do not go away at all and need medical intervention. Take care to treat them gently, don’t aggravate them, and be patient. Find more information on how long genital warts last, here.
It is not a good idea to have sex during an outbreak of genital warts. Even when genital warts are not present, someone infected with HPV can still spread it to their sexual partner. Condoms can help by decreasing the chances that the warts will be transmitted, but it is not a surefire preventative measure.
When a woman is pregnant who has HPV, she might be worried that the virus will harm her unborn baby, or that it will increase the risk of her pregnancy. Even though it causes genital warts, HPV is not known to cause pregnancy complications, nor harm the fetus in any way. Not all medications for the treatment of genital warts can be used in pregnancy, however, so always discuss your options with a physician.
People may wonder if different areas of the genitals will take different amounts of time for warts to go away, such as the anus. Anal warts are caused by the same strain of HPV that make warts appear on the vagina, cervix, clitoris, urethra, penis and scrotum. The mucous membranes of the area are compatible with HPV and can easily host an outbreak of warts. Just like other areas of the genitals, anal warts will usually go away on their own. Look here for further information on anal warts.
When waiting isn’t an option
Sometimes, being patient and waiting it out isn’t the right thing. For many people, there are factors that go into the decision of whether or not they’ll treat their genital warts.
- Discomfort: Genital warts are usually painless. However, warts that gather around the urethra can sometimes make urinating difficult and bothersome. In men, this may even cause infertility. When there are genital warts inside the anus, it may feel very uncomfortable. There are times when a genital wart can grow to a very large size, making it harder to live with than smaller or average sized ones. These are instances when people may want to hurry and treat the warts instead of waiting for the virus to clear on its own.
- Aesthetics: Even if the genital warts aren’t painful or causing any problems, you may still want to treat them quickly. Many people don’t like the look of the growths and are embarrassed or just feel uncomfortable with them present.
- Risk Factors: Certain strains of HPV that cause genital warts don’t only cause the growths to appear, they also carry risk factors for cancer. Cervical cancer in women is drastically increased with the presence of HPV, as well as penile cancer in men, and anal cancer in both genders.
There are many different ways to treat genital warts. These options range from non-invasive creams to more delicate surgery:
- Topical creams and gel: Some creams and gels are given as a prescription with instructions on how to apply them at home. There are also some that require a doctor to apply it for you, as the ingredients are too harsh and need a trained hand to ensure that no unnecessary damage is done to skin tissue. Products include Imiquimod, Podophyllin Resin, Podofilox, Trichloroacetic Acid, and Bichloroacetic Acid.
- Surgery: There are times when genital warts just won’t go away, whether on their own or with topical treatments. This is when you may choose to have a surgical procedure. Surgery for genital warts is usually done on an outpatient basis, with few exceptions, and is performed in a variety of ways. Examples of procedures are Electrocautery (using an electrical current), Surgical Excision (cutting), and laser treatment.
What to Expect After Treating Your Genital Warts
If you choose the standard treatment of a topical cream or gel, the time frame for the genital warts to go away completely is, on average, a few weeks. For surgery, the warts will have been taken out during the procedure, and so the waiting time would really just be for recovery, which can vary from a couple of days to a couple of weeks.
Genital warts are most often painless. However, if you seek surgery for the treatment of them, the site of the warts will be tender and, depending on the method of surgery, can even bleed or crust over. This will be temporary until the sites heal and your skin goes back to its normal, wart-free state.
You may wonder if genital warts can come back. The answer is yes — they can. Once free from your outbreak of genital warts, there are some things you can do to help prevent a new recurrence. Anything that compromises the immune system can help to promote a new outbreak.
Things to remember:
- Stress: A large amount of life stress has been shown to weaken the immune system. When the immune system is lowered, the body cannot fight off the HPV as well as it normally does, leading for an increased risk of the virus activating again and causing another batch of growths.
- Diet: Eating a proper diet full of the essential vitamins and minerals that your body needs helps everything function at its peak performance, including the immune system. A poor diet can lower the effectiveness of the body’s immune response. Another dietary factor that has been shown to link to an outbreak of genital warts is Arganine. This is found in foods such as seeds, some fish, alcohol, cheese, yogurt, caffeine, and nuts.
- A party lifestyle: Binge-drinking, lack of sleep, alcohol, drugs, and smoking are all factors that will increase your chance of a recurrence of genital warts. They stress the body and lower its defenses, leaving with you a higher rate of outbreaks.
- Illness: When you’re sick, your body is stressed out, which may encourage the HPV in your body to reactivate and begin to grow genital warts again.
The next time you have an outbreak of genital warts, don’t worry too much. Whether you exercise patience and wait for them to go away on their own, or seek treatment through a physician, these warts don’t have to ruin your life. In fact, millions are living with them right this moment.