Molluscum contagiosum: Diagnosis and treatment
How do dermatologists diagnose molluscum contagiosum?
A dermatologist often can diagnose molluscum contagiosum by looking at the skin. Your dermatologist may refer to the bumps on the skin as mollusca.
Sometimes the mollusca look like another skin condition. They can look like warts, chickenpox, and even skin cancer. If this happens, your dermatologist will scrape off a bit of infected skin. The infected skin will be examined under a microscope.
How do dermatologists treat molluscum contagiosum?
Dermatologists often recommend treatment for molluscum contagiosum. Treatment helps to prevent the virus from:
- Spreading to other parts of your body.
- Spreading to other people.
- Growing out of control in people who have a weakened immune system.
Treatment, however, may not be best for a young child. Treatment can have unwanted side effects for a young child. And the bumps often go away without treatment.
Although the bumps often go away without treatment, most people should be treated. And people who have a weakened immune system should definitely get treatment. The bumps will not go away without treatment if a person has a weakened immune system.
There are many treatment options. The treatment your dermatologist prescribes will depend on your age, health, where the bumps appear on your body, and other considerations.
Treatments that a dermatologist can perform in the office to treat molluscum contagiosum include:
- Cryosurgery: The dermatologist freezes the bumps with liquid nitrogen.
- Curettage: The dermatologist may use a small tool called a curette to scrape the bumps from the skin.
- Laser surgery: A dermatologist uses a laser to target and destroy the bumps. This can be an effective treatment for people who have a weakened immune system.
- Topical (applied to the skin) therapy: Your dermatologist can apply various acids and blistering solutions to destroy the bumps. These work by destroying the top layers of the skin. Tricholoracetic acid is often used to treat people who have a weak immune system and many bumps.
When a patient has many bumps or large bumps, a dermatologist may need to repeat the procedure every 3 to 6 weeks until the bumps disappear. These procedures cause some discomfort.
Medicines that your dermatologist may prescribe for you to use at home include:
- Imiquimod: This medicine is applied to the bumps. Imiquimod helps your immune system fight the virus. This is strong medicine. It also is used to treat stubborn warts and some skin cancers.
- Retinoid or antiviral medicine applied to the skin: Patients apply this medicine to the bumps as instructed.
While treating the bumps, it is normal for new bumps to appear as others fade.
Molluscum contagiosum remains contagious until all of the bumps go away. If a person with a healthy immune system opts not to treat the bumps, the bumps will eventually go away on their own without leaving a scar. After treatment, a person may get new bumps for as long as 6 months. Most people have complete clearing in 2 to 4 months.
If a person has AIDS or another disease that weakens the immune system, the bumps will not go away without treatment — and the bumps can be a challenge to treat. Dermatologists often combine treatments to offer these patients some clearing. Complete clearing may not be possible.