Overview

Genital warts are benign growths that are caused by different strains of human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is the most common STD, and an estimated 79 million Americans, mostly young adults, live with it. HPV can lead to many health problems, among which are genital warts and cervical cancer, depending on the viral strain. Genital warts are quite common and theoretically harmless, but they can be considerably annoying. However, they are treatable and wouldn't put your health in danger. Regardless of the preventive vaccine available in the market, about one in 100 sexually active adults in the U.S. has genital warts at any given time. 

Causes and symptoms of genital warts

Genital warts are soft, irregular growths that appear in the genitals of infected individuals. In men, they can present on the penis, scrotum, groin, thighs, and inside or around the anus. Women might have them in or around the vagina and anus, or in the cervix. What causes genital warts is the infection with various strains of the HPV. Even though they can appear in both men and women, the latter present with more complications.  

Genital warts are not always easy to notice. Sometimes they are darker while other times they adopt to your skin color. The locations they appear to, and their sizes might make them almost invisible to the naked eye. They might resemble a cauliflower and present alone or in bunches. Infected individuals may also acquire oral warts, on the lips, mouth, through, or tongue, through oral sex. Genital warts generally cause discharge, itching, bleeding, or a burning sensation. If left untreated, they might spread and cause significant pain and discomfort.

Risk factors for genital warts

Being sexually active is the principal behavioral pattern that puts you at considerable risk for acquiring genital warts. They are more prevalent among young adults under 30 years old, who smoke, or who have a weakened immune system. Studies suggest the risk gets higher among adults who were victims of sexual abuse as children, as well as for those whose mother had the virus during labor. 

How do you get genital warts?

Genital warts are sexually transmitted infectious growths that you can get from vaginal, anal, or oral sex. The virus spreads through skin-to-skin contact with an infected person. These types of warts are not the same as those you can get on your hands. Therefore, you cannot transmit warts from your hands to the genitals of another person and vice versa. Genital warts are highly infectious and transmissible when they are visible and symptomatic, and not while they are on remission. 

What if my partner has genital warts?

The diagnosis of genital warts involves questions about your sexual activity and preferences and clinical examination. Your doctor will probably ask you about your sexual life and whether you are a monogamous person or not. Apart from that, your doctor might need to know whether you casually use a condom. All these questions will help reveal the potential risks of exposure to the virus. The clinical part consists of a pelvic examination, to establish whether you have warts in the inside of your vagina or cervix. A Pap test might also be necessary to check the possibility of HPV infection. If your genital warts are visible to the naked eye, a simple test for the presence of the virus and the confirmation of the diagnosis should be enough. If you think you exposed yourself to HPV and genital warts, find out immediately if you acquired the disease or not, with an easy-to-use STD kit test. The kit involves directions on how you can evaluate yourself alone at home.

How to prevent genital warts

The most effective method of prevention is HPV vaccination. There are vaccines called Gardasil and Gardasil 9 for both sexes, which prevent many strains of the HPV, including the malignant ones that can cause cervical cancer. Another method of prevention is using latex condoms or dental dams upon sexual activity. In general, risky sexual behaviors are contra-indicated, as they increase your chances of getting different strains of HPV. Therefore, avoid having multiple sex partners or partners who have multiple sex partners. Being monogamous and conscious could significantly reduce the risk. 

How do you treat genital warts?

Visible genital warts may come and go without treatment. If you have genital warts, you might experience several outbreaks throughout your life. However, as mentioned previously, you can infect others or acquire the disease in the presence of visible genital warts. Therefore, treatment focuses on alleviating your symptoms and preventing you from transmitting the infection to others. Unfortunately, you can get rid of them once at a time, and not once forever. The initial treatment is topical and consists of imiquimod (Aldara), podophyllin and podofilox (Condylox), and trichloroacetic acid (TCA). When topical therapies fail to succeed, your doctor may suggest minimally invasive procedures such as burning or freezing warts. Other methods include laser, surgical excision, and interferon injections. After the initial treatment, you might need to undergo a Pap test every three to six months, to establish whether or not you're at high risk for cervical cancer. The chances for genital warts to progress into malignancy are generally very low, but co-infection with several HPV strains is also possible. 

Does apple cider vinegar kill genital warts?

Some evidence suggests it can. This remedy is based on the fact that acidic ingredients can kill the virus found in the cells of genital warts. However, there are quite a few home remedies that can be useful against genital warts. Some of the most commonly used ones are the following:

  • Tea tree oil
  • Green tea
  • Garlic

However, do not rely on home remedies once diagnosed with genital warts. The best thing to do is talk to your doctor, and discuss the treatment options together. Once you understand the disease and its risks, you can suggest trying a home remedy as an alternative or an addition to your usual treatment plan. Home remedies are not always harmless. Some may cause allergies or exacerbate your warts even more. Therefore, make sure you consult a medical professional first.