Dear Alice,

I found out that I have a genital wart on my penis. I went to the doctor a while back and he put some medicine on it and also gave me a prescription. After using the prescribed medicine for a few weeks, the wart went away. After a few months, the wart returned. I do not have any more of the prescription, nor do I have insurance anymore. My question with this is... can you use over-the-counter wart removal medicines on genital warts?

Dear Reader,

Wart on your finger? Wart on your penis? They're both warts so they must have the same treatment, right? Unfortunately, they don't and for one very major reason: the skin tissue on other parts of your body (hands and feet, for example) is much less sensitive than genital tissue. The same abundance of nerve endings around the genitals that make them such a pleasurable region will become agitated by the heat, cold, acid, and excision therapies often used to remove genital warts (read more about various treatments in the Related Q&As below). This means that using over-the-counter remedies designed for non-genital warts could lead to more anguish than your warts may already be causing you.

With time, genital warts will usually clear without treatment. Unless they are causing you discomfort, there is little harm in leaving them untreated. However, keep in mind that the virus (though transmissible with or without visible symptoms) is much more contagious during flare-ups and may be passed more easily to a sexual partner. Additionally, because the virus that causes genital warts (human papillomavirus, or HPV for short) never leaves your body, it is possible for symptoms to flare up on occasion (as you have experienced).

If finances are keeping you away from a health care provider, you may have access to some affordable options. Though it can vary from clinic to clinic, organizations such as Planned Parenthood often offer a sliding scale fee structures, low cost, and/or free services to increase access to testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as genital warts, even for people under age 18 (but this may vary by state). You might also contact your local health department and/or Planned Parenthood clinic to find out about affordable or free testing and treatment options near you.

Wherever you decide to go for treatment, know that you have options despite your financial limitations.


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