Molluscum Contagiosum

Molluscum are smooth, pearly, flesh-colored skin growths. They begin as small bumps and may grow as large as a pencil eraser. Usually, molluscum are found on the face and body but may grow in the mouth or on the eyelid.

What Causes Molluscum Contagiosum?

The growths are caused by a virus entering a break in the skin's surface; many of them have a central pit where the virus bodies live. Molluscum can be itchy and the skin around the growths may become infected. The bumps usually last from two weeks to one and a half years and can go away by themselves. The molluscum may be passed from child to child by direct contact, or by touching objects that have the virus on them.

How Is Molluscum Contagiosum Treated?

Although molluscum eventually resolve, lesions spread easily, may become infected, may be itchy or irritated and are sometimes cosmetically objectionable. Therefore, they are often removed. The treatment depends on the age of the patient and the size and location of the growths.

Cantharone®, a blistering agent made from beetles, is applied with a wooden applicator to the skin growth. The medicine should be washed off in 4 to 6 hours. A small blister usually forms in a few hours to one day. When the scab falls off, the growth is gone. This treatment is useful because the application is not painful; it is used carefully and selectively on the face and in skin creases. Occasionally no blistering occurs, but sometimes, children are quite sensitive and extensive blistering is seen. Scarring does not occur from Cantharone treatment. Although the blisters are uncomfortable, they are very superficial and resolve within a few days. Compresses with lukewarm water and breaking the blisters with a sterile needle may help.

Freezing the growths with liquid nitrogen is another form of treatment. Applied with a cotton-tipped applicator, the liquid nitrogen causes the affected area to feel hot for a moment, and then a blister or irritation may form at the site.

Another way to remove molluscum is by scraping the bump or removing the center — a treatment that is usually performed only after numbing the area with a special cream.

All forms of treatment may cause some discomfort, which is usually eased by acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol®, Tempra®) or ibuprofen (e.g., Advil®, Motrin®).

Regrowth of Molluscum Contagiosum

Sometimes, new molluscum may form while existing lesions are being treated. Any lesions large enough to be seen will be treated. Multiple treatments are usually required. Don't be concerned if molluscum recur or new lesions develop, just make an appointment for further therapy.

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