Sex Talk

Can I get rid of my genital warts with over-the-counter meds?

Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng answers your sex questions

17 June 2018 - 00:00
There are many ways to treat genital warts, depending on where they are and how much of your skin they cover.
There are many ways to treat genital warts, depending on where they are and how much of your skin they cover.
Image: 123RF/Catinsyrup

Q. What is the cause of genital warts and how dangerous are they? Is there an over-the-counter medication one can use?

A. Genital warts appear on the skin around your genitals and anus. They're caused by certain strains of human papilloma virus (HPV), which cannot be cured and are divided into high-risk and low-risk types.

These strains of HPV can cause skin-coloured warts or whitish growths that show up on the vulva, vagina, cervix, rectum, anus, penis or scrotum. The warts may itch and most of the time they are not painful.

Other people do not develop warts but still carry the infection.

The number of warts or growths differ from area to area. There may be just one or a bunch of them, and they can vary in size from very small to big. They have been said to resemble a cauliflower.

VIRUS LURKS UNSEEN

If you develop genital warts, it's not necessarily the case that the infection happened in the recent past; it can be weeks, months or even years after the initial transmission and sexual contact before warts appear. 

Genital warts are caused by certain strains of human papilloma virus.
Genital warts are caused by certain strains of human papilloma virus.
Image: Supplied

It is possible that you or your partner might have gotten the infection a long time ago. Your body's immune system may fight off the virus that causes genital warts, and they may go away without any further treatment.

If not, they can be uncomfortable and persistent and can even increase in size and in number.

Using barrier protection such as condoms and dental dams will reduce skin-to-skin contact and therefore the risk of transmission of HPV.

There are many ways to treat genital warts, depending on where they are and how much of your skin they cover. The treatment options available can have different side-effects and costs. They range from simple creams to invasive surgery.

Remember that not all bumps on the genitals are warts and that a proper examination and often blood tests may be required. A dermatologist may perform a skin biopsy if there are indications.

• Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng (MBChB), sexual and reproductive health practice, Disa Clinic, safersex.co.za.

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