What’s the Treatment for Genital Warts?

Generally, genital warts don’t cause any symptoms, but they might be painful, itchy, and unsightly. Luckily, there are a number of treatments that can help. For external warts, these treatments include:

  • Creams, gels, and ointments
  • Cryotherapy (freezing off the warts)
  • Surgery
  • Acid solutions

Which treatment your doctor recommends depends on things like how many warts you have, where they are, how big they are, and your own treatment preference.

Creams, Gels, and Ointments

Options for gels, creams, and ointments are imiquimod cream, podofilox gel, and sinecatechins ointment.

Imiquimod is a cream you apply yourself to boost your immune system. You apply imiquimod 5% cream at bedtime, 3 times a week for 16 weeks. You apply imiquimod 3.75% cream every night. With either strength, you should wash the treated area with soap and water 6 to 10 hours after you put it on. You should also avoid sex while imiquimod is on your skin because it can weaken condoms and diaphragms.

Podofilox and podophyllin resin are gels designed to kill the warts. After they are applied to the wart, the area needs to air dry before coming in contact with clothing. Podofilox isn’t recommended for warts on the cervix, vagina, or anal canal. It’s also not meant for larger areas. If you use too much or don’t let it air dry, you could spread the gel to other areas and develop side effects. Because of thiss risk, the CDC no longer recommends this treatment.

Sinecatechins ointment is made from green tea extract. Sinecatechins 15% ointment is applied to warts 3 times a day for up to 16 weeks. You should avoid all sexual contact while the ointment is on your skin.

If the warts are in a moist area, or in a spot where skin rubs together, a cream or ointment you put directly on the warts tends to work best.

If you’re pregnant, you should avoid these medications.

Cryotherapy

Your doctor can also freeze the warts off using liquid nitrogen and a cotton-tipped applicator or a special device called a cryoprobe. The cold is applied for 10-20 seconds. If you have a lot of warts, or if they’re large, your doctor may numb the area first with a local anesthetic.

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Surgery

This can get rid of all your warts in a single visit. After giving you a local anesthetic, your doctor can remove your warts using different methods. These include:

  • Cutting them off with scissors
  • Shaving them off with a sharp blade (this is called shave excision)
  • Using a laser to remove them (curettage laser)
  • Burning them off using electrocautery, a process that uses a low-voltage electrical probe

In most cases, you won’t need stitches after surgery.

Acid Solutions

Your doctor can use trichloroacetic or bichloroacetic acid to treat the warts. You’ll apply a small amount to the warts once a week and allow it to dry. It works best on small, moist warts and can be used on vaginal and anal warts.

Treatments for Internal Warts

If you have vaginal or cervical warts, the recommended treatments are:

  • Cryotherapy or liquid nitrogen
  • Surgical removal
  • Acid solution

If you have warts in your urethra (the tube that carries urine from the kidneys to your bladder), your best treatment options are cryotherapy or surgical removal.

What Are the Side Effects?

They’re rare. They can include discoloring of the skin or scarring, especially if you haven’t had enough time to heal between treatments.

Rarer still is severe, chronic pain. If you have anal warts, having a bowel movement might become painful. You could also get a condition called a fistula that requires surgery.

What If I Don’t Get Treated?

Genital warts may go away on their own or stay the same. If you’re not treated, you could also get more or larger genital warts.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Nivin Todd, MD on April 19, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

CDC: “Genital Warts,” “Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines, 2015.”

American Academy of Family Physicians: “Management of Genital Warts,” Dermal Electrosurgical Shave Excision.”

American Academy of Dermatology: “Genital Warts: Overview.”

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