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How long do genital warts last? What to know

Genital warts are a sexually transmitted infection caused by the human papillomavirus. They can disappear on their own over time, but usually heal faster with treatment.

They appear as flesh-colored bumps around the genitals and are usually soft to the touch.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the United States. Once infected, a person cannot get rid of HPV.

Not everyone with HPV has genital warts. As a symptom, warts come and go. While there is no cure, they can be managed with creams or other treatments.

How long do genital warts last?

Genital warts can disappear without treatment. This will usually happen within 2 years, though it can take longer. Warts left untreated are likely to return more quickly. People can eliminate genital warts much faster with treatment.

For a person using cream, it may take as little as a few months for warts to disappear. They may go away more quickly following a surgical procedure.


Treatment

Papilloma Virus which may cause genital warts
HPV causes genital warts that can be eliminated with treatment.

Genital warts may appear within weeks, months, or years of a person contracting HPV.

An outbreak will present as lumps anywhere around the genitals. In some cases, outbreaks can also appear on the throat, mouth, lips, or tongue.

In addition to clearing up genital warts more quickly, treatment can:

  • ease associated pain, itching, and irritation
  • lower the risk of spreading HPV to other people

Treatments for genital warts include:

Topical creams

A doctor can prescribe a topical cream, or recommend an over-the-counter variety. It is important to note that over-the-counter remedies for regular warts cannot treat genital warts.

Creams for genital warts include:

Sinecatechins

This cream is made from green tea extract and is prescribed to manage external and anal genital warts. Apply this to the affected area three times daily for up to 4 months.

Sinecatechins is highly effective, and most people tolerate it well.

Side effects may include:

  • a burning sensation
  • pain or discomfort in the area
  • itching
  • redness

Imiquimod

Imiquimod works to get rid of external genital warts and has also been used to treat some skin cancers. Apply the ointment directly to warts at least 3 days a week for up to 4 months.

Imiquimod can also help to boost a person’s immune system, encouraging it to fight the HPV infection. However, studies have shown it to be effective in just over 50 percent of people. Also, women observed a complete disappearance of warts more often than men.

Side effects can include:

  • redness or swelling in the area
  • a burning sensation
  • itching
  • tenderness
  • flaky or scabby skin

Cryotherapy

This involves the use of liquid nitrogen to freeze off genital warts. The nitrogen causes a blister to form around each wart, and the warts will fall away as the blisters heal.

Cryotherapy is a quick and effective solution, although many people require multiple treatments to maintain results over time.

Side effects of cryotherapy may include:

  • pain
  • swelling of the area
  • a mild burning sensation

Electrodesiccation

In this procedure, a surgeon burns genital warts with an electrical current. The dried tissue is then scraped away, leaving the person wart-free.

A person will usually receive general anesthetic. Healing time can take between 4 and 6 weeks.

Electrodesiccation is considered very effective. Controlled trials have reported that up to 94 percent of people who received this treatment were wart-free after 6 weeks.

Side effects may include:

  • bleeding
  • infection
  • scarring
  • changes in the color of the skin

Laser surgery

A surgeon also performs this procedure, using laser light to burn away the tissue of the wart.

A person will usually receive either local or general anesthesia, depending on the number and size of the warts.

A doctor may recommend laser surgery when warts are:

  • difficult to access
  • difficult to treat by other means
  • extensive
  • prominent

Recovery is expected to take around 4 weeks.

Side effects of laser surgery may include:

  • bleeding
  • scarring
  • pain
  • soreness and irritation in the area

Preventing transmission

various colored condoms lined up
The risk of transmitting HPV is reduced by wearing a condom.

If a person has HPV, it is vital that they tell their partners before engaging in sexual activity.

A person can reduce the risk of infecting a partner by abstaining from sex until an outbreak of warts has been cleared for 2 weeks.

However, HPV can still spread from person to person, even if no warts are present.

Wearing a condom or dental dam will reduce the risk of transmitting HPV and other STIs.


Outlook

While genital warts may eventually disappear without treatment, HPV remains infectious. It is therefore essential to wear a condom during sexual activity.

Treatment can help to eliminate genital warts and reduce future outbreaks, although it may take several months to be effective. Repeated treatment may be necessary, and warts may still return.

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