What Is Molluscum Contagiosum

Pymble Dermatology

Molluscum contagiosum is a viral infection that produces distinctive papules across the skin. Although it can occur at any age, it’s more common in children. Overall, it’s a harmless condition and most people who have it don’t require any treatment. However, it is incredibly infectious and some parents find it worrying. By understanding more about molluscum contagiosum, you can decide on the best course of treatment for your child.

Molluscum contagiosum Is a Harmless Viral Condition

A molluscum contagiosum rash is usually quite distinctive, but it’s also harmless. You may notice small spots that are around 2 to 6 mm in size. Larger spots may grow to between 10 and 20 mm, although that’s quite unusual.

The spots are raised like small domes and they often have a shiny surface. Most are skin-coloured, although they can become red or pink. You may notice a central dimple in the middle, which is usually one of the tell-tale characteristics. Some people also experience small patches of red skin around the spots. 

In most cases, those who have molluscum contagiosum will have only one or two spots. In extreme cases, you can have as many as 20. You should find that the spots are clustered into one area. 

Getting a Diagnosis

If you’re unsure of what is causing your rash, it’s always better to speak with a medical professional. Some doctors will choose to diagnose molluscum contagiosum on the basis of a visual inspection alone. As it is quite a common childhood rash, it isn’t always necessary to undergo further investigations.

However, when your doctor isn’t sure or if you are presenting to them as an adult, they may want to perform a biopsy. A biopsy that is taken from the centre of one of your spots can be analysed in a lab to identify the molluscum contagiosum virus. As the spots can sometimes look like boils, identifying the virus is particularly important if you choose to pursue treatment for the condition.

Undergoing Treatment for Molluscum Contagiosum

It isn’t always necessary to undergo treatment for molluscum contagiosum. If your child has a case of it and it is particularly mild, they may find the treatment too uncomfortable to justify using it. The spots usually clear up within 12 to 18 months. Although it isn’t impossible for them to return after this stage, it’s unusual for that to happen.

With that said, there are times when treating molluscum contagiosum is preferable to leaving the condition alone. Such cases include:

  •   The spots are in an area that causes pain, for example, the locations where they rub against your skin or in the creases of your skin.
  •   The spot is near your eye, and is causing problems with your vision as a result.
  •   The spots are particularly big and you’re starting to feel self-conscious as a result.
  •   You’re suffering with an auto-immune condition or you’re undergoing chemotherapy and have a weakened immune system.
  •   The infection is interfering with your everyday activities in some way.

If your dermatologist agrees that it is worth treating your condition, they may explore several treatment options.

Topical Therapies

Salicylic acid and potassium hydroxide are two topical therapies you can use to treat molluscum contagiosum. They aggravate the spots your dermatologist targets, which your immune system will then detect. After detecting the spots, your immune system will break them down. In some cases, these therapies may result in scarring. As a result, it’s important to choose a practitioner with plenty of experience in using them.

Cryotherapy

Cryotherapy involves using liquid nitrogen to freeze the spots until they clear. You may need to attend several appointments for the treatment to work.

Curettage

If your dermatologist chooses to use curettage, they’ll apply a local anaesthetic at the site of the spot first. From there, they’ll use a sharp instrument to remove it. It’s important to follow aftercare advice to avoid scarring.

Some dermatologists may also use a cream called Imiquimod to treat your molluscum contagiosum. However, those who do so are using the product on an off-license basis. As a result, you may find that not all dermatologists offer this therapy.

What You Can Do to Treat Molluscum Contagiosum

Molluscum contagiosum can be quite contagious and spreads quite easily between children. If you’re a parent and your child has the condition, try to avoid letting them share a bath with other children. Additionally, if you have the condition, make sure you don’t share towels, bedding, or washcloths with anybody else. 

There’s no need to stay away from work or keep your child off school. Additionally, if you enjoy going swimming there’s no need for you to stop. However, if you do go swimming, try applying a waterproof plaster over the top of your spots. Make sure to avoid the sticky surface of the plaster coming into contact with the spots themselves.

What You Shouldn’t Do

At first glance, your molluscum contagiosum spots may look like spots you can squeeze. It’s important to avoid squeezing them. You may aggravate the area and if you break the skin you could develop an infection at the site.

Don’t try any home-based remedies either. This includes tying the spot at the base to cut off the circulation, or cutting them off yourself. Such remedies may cause the virus to spread further, and they increase your risk of infection.

If you see any at-home freezing kits, avoid them. It isn’t likely that they will work and freezing off spots is quite a precise art. If you try to apply such substances yourself, there’s a risk that you’ll damage the surrounding skin and cause scarring.

Overall, molluscum contagiosum isn’t a condition you need to worry about. Seeking treatment isn’t always necessary either. But if you do want treatment, it’s best to use a dermatologist. They have the skills and tools required to remove spots safely and will always do so without compromising your safety.