Most genital warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). There is no cure for the HPV virus that causes genital warts. Even when the warts disappear, a person can still transmit the virus. Some remedies, including some home remedies, may temporarily clear up genital warts.
Though the virus itself is associated with cervical and some other cancers, genital warts themselves do not cause cancer. Moreover, not all people with HPV develop genital warts.
In this article, we examine some home remedies that could help with cases of genital warts. We also look at how some lifestyle changes might affect this condition.
Three home remedies
Witch hazel may be used to treat genital warts, as studies suggest it can fight HPV.
Because genital warts can come back even after surgical removal, home remedies are likely to be most effective when used alongside standard medical treatments.
It is important to note that the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not regulate alternative medicines. Anyone wanting to use these remedies should discuss it with a doctor first, and should always buy them from reliable sources.
The following home remedies may speed the healing of genital warts, but will not cure the underlying virus.
1. Green tea extract
Green tea extract may help fight genital warts. A 2015 study reviewed the use of a specific type of green tea extract called sinecatechins. Green tea extract worked better than a placebo — and was about as effective as standard topical medical remedies — in clearing genital warts.
Compared with standard remedies, people do not need to wash the green tea extract off their skin before applying it again.
2. Tea tree oil
Advocates of traditional medicine have long used tea tree oil to treat a variety of skin conditions. Its antimicrobial properties may reduce the severity of some viruses, including those that cause warts.
Tea tree oil has not been well-studied for use with genital warts, but limited evidence suggests it might treat warts on other areas of the body.
One example is an old case study from 2008 that detailed the successful use of tea tree oil to treat a child with warts on her hand. The authors suggested that their positive results might mean that tea tree oil can also treat warts caused by HPV.
As tea tree oil can burn the skin, people should consult a doctor or herbal medicine expert before trying it.
3. Witch hazel
Like tea tree oil, witch hazel is a popular remedy for various skin issues. It is relatively mild, so unlikely to irritate sensitive skin. It should not be used on mucous membranes, including inside the vagina or anus, however.
A 2014 study found that witch hazel might be effective at fighting HPV type 16, which is one of the strains of HPV that causes genital warts.
As HPV is a sexually transmitted infection (STI), people with the virus should take steps to reduce the risk of passing the virus on, including the use of condoms during sexual intercourse. However, HPV often affects areas not covered by a condom, so can be easily transmitted even when using this form of contraception.
Some evidence suggests that dietary changes may improve symptoms of genital warts. According to a 2015 literature review, cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and cabbage, may have the potential to halt the development of genital warts. These vegetables contain molecules that the body metabolizes into chemicals that may attack HPV.
A handful of trials of juice and other edible forms of these vegetables suggest that they can be effective against genital warts.
When to see a doctor
HPV is a serious virus linked to throat, cervical, and some other cancers. By knowing their HPV status, a person can help slow the spread of the virus, which can be potentially life-saving.
Not all people with HPV develop genital warts, but many people with genital warts have HPV.
People who develop warts or other sores on or around their genitals should see a doctor. Proper diagnosis can ensure appropriate treatment. It is possible that something that resembles genital warts is another condition, such as herpes or a bacterial infection. Only a doctor can tell for sure.
People with HIV and other diseases that harm the immune system may have more severe outbreaks of genital warts. They may also experience more difficulty clearing up outbreaks. People with genital warts should consider testing for other STIs.
Traditional treatment options
A prescribed medical remedy for genital warts is often effective.
Medical remedies for genital warts are usually effective. They can reduce the appearance of the warts and the length of each outbreak.
Medication will not, however, kill the underlying virus. The virus continues living in the body so future outbreaks are possible.
One of two creams — podofilox or imiquimod — applied directly to the warts can be effective. A person will need to get a prescription from a doctor before using these medications, and should not use them if they are pregnant.
A third cream, also available through a prescription, is sinecatechins. This is a green tea extract cream that is FDA-approved for genital warts. Other green tea formulations may be available over the counter.
A doctor may also be able to freeze off the warts through a process called cryotherapy. This permanently removes existing warts, though new ones may appear. Cryotherapy may require several treatments to work.
Surgical removal is also possible and is usually done under local anesthesia. Surgery removes warts in a single treatment session.
A doctor can also apply one of two topical treatments to speed the removal of the warts. Due to the strength of these treatments, they can only be applied in a doctor's office. It may take several treatments for the warts to disappear.
Some experimental treatments, including treatment with the drug interferon, may help people for whom other treatments do not work.
Genital warts sometimes disappear without treatment. It is essential, however, to distinguish the warts from the infection that causes them.
HPV is a lifelong, incurable condition. Even when genital warts disappear, whether this is due to treatment or on their own, a person will still have HPV. This means that they can develop genital warts again and may pass the virus onto sexual partners.
People who have genital warts should discuss ways to help prevent spreading the virus with their doctor. It is essential that people tell any sexual partners about their HPV status.