By Daniel Krowchuk, M.D., Pediatrician and Co-Director of Pediatric Dermatology, Brenner Children’s Hospital

One of the more vexing skin problems affecting children is molluscum contagiosum. What is it and what can be done about it?

Molluscum contagiosum (“molluscum”) is a viral infection of the skin. For reasons that are not known, molluscum is becoming more common. It is spread by close physical contact (skin-to-skin) or by contaminated objects, like a towel or wash cloth. Although very controversial, there is some evidence that molluscum may be spread via swimming pools. Any child may get molluscum but those who have eczema seem to be particularly prone.

The bumps of molluscum contagiosum are small, skin-colored, and have a “pearly” appearance (see photo). There may be a dimple on the surface of some bumps, a helpful sign in identifying the condition. Some children develop a few bumps while others get many. Almost any area of the body can be affected.

At times, an area of red, irritated skin appears around molluscum bumps. Often this a form of dermatitis caused by the virus. If the bumps themselves become red and swollen it’s usually a sign that the body’s immune system is fighting the virus. However, consult with your medical provider if you observe these changes.

While a child has molluscum contagiosum, it’s common for some bumps to go away only to be replaced by new ones. The infection can last months to a few years before immunity develops and the bumps disappear for good. Once gone, molluscum generally doesn’t return.

So, what can be done if you think your child has molluscum? It’s helpful to consult with your medical provider to discuss the options. If your child has only a few bumps that are not bothersome, many parents choose to “wait and see.” If treatment is desired, it’s important to be aware that available therapies can cause bumps to disappear but cannot rid the body of the virus. For this reason, new bumps may continue to form until immunity develops.

There are a number of treatments for molluscum but none works perfectly. For young children, options that don’t cause pain usually are advised. These may include a blistering solution applied in the provider’s office, forms of mild acids (like those used to treat warts), or a medication that boosts the immune system in the skin where it is applied. For older children or adolescents, freezing the bumps with liquid nitrogen often is used.

Has your family encountered molluscum yet? What tips would you give to others?