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Genital Warts vs Genital Herpes: How To Spot the Difference

genital warts vs genital herpes


Concerned about what’s going on down there?

If you notice unusual symptoms in the genital area, it’s important to identify the underlying cause so you can seek the best treatment. 

Genital warts and genital herpes can both be responsible for lesions in the genital area. Is one of these conditions currently affecting your body? 

Learn more about the telltale signs so you can easily distinguish the differences that occur in genital warts vs genital herpes. 

What Is Genital Herpes?

Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). You may recognize a genital herpes outbreak by the appearance of blisters and lesions.

Most people experience their first outbreak two to 12 days after initial exposure to the virus. Once the blisters break, herpes ulcers may take up to four weeks to heal. Recurring outbreaks are common but don’t last nearly as long. Sores tend to heal within three to seven days in recurring outbreaks.

If you’re not sure if your current outbreak is, in fact, genital herpes, assess your body for these specific symptoms.


A Group of Tiny Blisters

Genital herpes blisters appear as small red bumps and white blisters grouped closely together on, around or inside the genital region. These blisters may appear days or weeks after your first exposure to the virus and last two to six weeks. 

You may notice tingling, itching or burning as genital herpes blisters emerge. These sores become very painful, fill up with pus, and eventually burst, dry out and scab over. Though it may take a few weeks, most genital herpes scabs heal without any scarring. 

Sores Disappear and Reappear

About 50% of people with genital herpes experience recurring symptoms after their first outbreak. These recurrences, or outbreaks, last up to 10 days each. The herpes virus is highly contagious during this time.

It’s hard to predict how frequently genital herpes outbreaks will recur, but you can take steps to prevent outbreaks through healthy eating, medication and lifestyle choices.

The good news is that recurrent outbreaks are often less painful, shorter duration and easier to manage. Many people also experience a decrease in outbreak frequency after the first year of HSV infection. 

Flu-like Symptoms

In addition to the physical presence of blisters and sores, genital herpes also causes flu-like symptoms, especially during your first outbreak. Common side effects include:

  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes

What Are Genital Warts?

Genital warts are soft growths that appear on the genitals. They are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), and though they can affect both men and women, women are more vulnerable to outbreaks and complications. 

You can’t tell the difference between genital warts vs genital herpes from how you contracted them, as both viruses are transmitted through sexual activity.

Some genital warts are obvious growths that resemble a cauliflower, but others are so small that they’re not visible to the human eye. 

It’s also possible for genital warts to develop on the lips, mouth, tongue, fingers, or throat of a person who has oral sexual contact with a person infected with HPV.

In addition to the presence of warts, HPV also causes other symptoms including:

  • Itching
  • Bleeding
  • Burning
  • Vaginal discharge

Use Diagnostic Tests To Confirm

You may suspect you have genital herpes or genital warts based on your symptoms, but only a diagnostic test can confirm.

Since both of these conditions can occur without any obvious signs, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends testing if you have symptoms that could be related to herpes or HPV, or if you recently had sex with a new partner who is infected with either virus.


Testing for Genital Herpes

Your doctor can offer one or more of the following genital herpes testing options: 

  • Tissue or herpes sore sample
  • Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test to look for the presence of DNA from HSV
  • Blood test to detect the presence of HSV antibodies

Testing for Genital Warts

Genital wart testing for men only requires a visual examination. For women, however, a deeper pelvic exam may be necessary. This involves applying a mild acidic solution to make any warts more visible. 

Your doctor may also recommend a Pap smear. This test takes a swab from the cervix to test cells for the presence of HPV. 

genital warts vs genital herpes


Treatment Options for Genital Warts

Genital warts can be treated and managed using a few different methods, but none of them are over-the-counter. The only legitimate genital wart treatments are available from a doctor:

  • Prescription for topical treatments like Aldara or Condylox
  • Electrocautery, which burns warts with electric currents
  • Cryosurgery, which freezes warts
  • Laser treatment

Genital warts may also be prevented entirely with the HPV vaccine Gardasil. This vaccination is meant to protect men and women from the most common HPV strains that cause genital warts. 

What To Do if It’s Genital Herpes

If you suspect you have genital herpes, or you’ve received a confirmed genital herpes diagnosis, you’ll want to know how to manage the condition. When you notice the early warning signs of a genital herpes outbreak, follow these tips to learn how to get rid of genital herpes sores fast. 

Choose an Antiviral Medication

Head to your doctor’s office, use an online pharmacy, or check your medicine cabinet for these effective genital herpes antiviral medications

This antiviral medication is designed to treat infections caused by the herpes simplex virus, including genital herpes.

It is recommended to start this medication as soon as you notice the first signs of an emerging outbreak. The medication works by inhibiting the growth and spread of the virus during an outbreak. While it doesn't completely remove the virus from the body, most individuals experience relief within a few days of beginning treatment for genital herpes.

Another antiviral drug, approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treating genital herpes, offers a different approach. It interferes with the virus's DNA replication for a longer period compared to the first medication. This extended action allows for less frequent dosing while maintaining effective control over the infection, ensuring consistent results.

NSAIDs for Pain Relief

Genital herpes outbreaks can cause days or even weeks of discomfort. Fortunately, you probably already have pain relief options at home. Over-the-counter drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen are formulated to reduce the inflammation that causes so much pain during outbreaks. 


Use the Luminance RED

The Luminance RED is a breakthrough genital herpes treatment device that harnesses high-powered light treatment, a therapy known to accelerate healing and prevent new herpes outbreaks. 

This treatment nourishes the skin with medically optimized light, which the body metabolizes to accelerate the healing process and strengthen its defenses against future attacks. Regular use of the Luminance RED may prevent future outbreaks altogether!

In a study of people with at least one herpes attack per month for more than six months, in this case in the oral region, patients who received treatment with red light averaged 37.5 weeks before their next cold sore episode. Patients who did not receive treatment averaged only three weeks between episodes. 

With just a few 90-second treatments per day, you can discreetly take control of genital herpes.

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