Living With Molluscum Contagiosum: Tips for Managing and Coping
Molluscum contagiosum is a viral skin infection that is caused, almost always, by MCV-1, which is part of the pox virus. The condition is very easy to diagnose as it presents as spots with a central dimple (most people can diagnose by comparing their lesion to pictures on Google images).
The condition is spread mainly by skin-to-skin contact. So if you come into contact with another person's spots you are potentially at risk of infection. It is suspected, however, that many people are immune to the virus (though no individual should ever be assumed to be immune).
It is also possible for the infection to spread via towels and other objects, though skin-to-skin contact is the most common transmission route. You may also spread the infection yourself to other parts of your body using your fingers (this is known as autoinoculation), so it is best not to touch the spots.
The standard advice from doctors is to leave the spots to go away on their own. This is good advice in general but does not leave everyone satisfied. The reason you're reading this is probably because you are not happy to just wait for it to go away.
In this article I will show you various ways that you can help manage the condition and I will present several treatments for which there is evidence regarding their effectiveness at reducing the number and duration of the spots.
I had the misfortune of catching molluscum contagiosum though sexual contact. While I had the condition it made dating much more difficult—and the repeated statements that it can take an eternity to clear up didn't help my outlook. However after a great deal of research I figured out how to manage the condition and was able to vastly reduce the impact it had on my life.
Always remember that this will go away and that there are things that you can do to speed this process up and manage it to minimise its effect on your life.
Bumps Get Inflamed, Turn Red Or Black Then Heal
Treatments That Are Effective
It is incorrect to say that there are no treatments for molluscum contagiosum. There are in fact several treatments that are effective at reducing symptoms. They don't kill the virus completely however they reduce (often very significantly) the time that a spot lasts for and the number of spots that you have. The only cure for molluscum contagiosum is waiting for it to go away but you need not sit doing nothing. You can actively manage the condition such that you clear the symptoms faster and reduce the number of spots.
This is your first line of defence. Putting a plaster over a spot makes less likely that it will spread. With a plaster on it you (or your child) won't be able to pick at it or spread it to other parts of the body by touching it. Furthermore if you sleep with a partner covering the skin with either plasters or a t-shirt will drastically reduce the chances of spread assuming your partner is not immune to MCV.
This is probably one of the most effective treatments though large scale clinical trials are not available to date. The data from the research is encouraging and this was the treatment that I used personally which helped.
What you do is you buy a solution of 5% Potassium Hydroxide which will likely be sold under a brand name. In the United Kingdom it is sold as Molludab by Alliance Pharma or as Mollutrex by Espire Healthcare. The brand isn't at all important - you just need the Potassium Hydroxide.
What you do is you apply the solution to the molluscum. You need to be very careful to avoid getting it on your skin as it can sting as potassium hydroxide is caustic. In time the molluscum will turn red or black at which point you stop applying the solution. What is happening is the body is mounting an inflammatory immune response. After a few days to a few weeks the spots should just fall off. After which the skin should return to normal within a few weeks. As long as you don't pop the spots the risk of scarring is very low. Starting treatment before the Molluscum grows large is likely to reduced the risk of scarring further (the risk is already low).
This treatment should keep your spot count down making the condition much easier to manage. Complete clearance with this method without recurrence has been reported. However you should watch out for new spots and once you spot them you should apply the solution to it.
The healing process typically follows these stages:
- Spot turns red and looks angry
- A scab forms around the spot (typically with a brown or black appearance)
- The scab falls off leaving slightly a discoloured patch
- The skin returns to normal (in practically every case there is no scarring). There may be some hyper-pigmentation or hypo-pigmentation after treatment but this clears spontaneously.
A doctor will be able apply liquid nitrogen (an extremely cold substance) to the lesion. This is known as cryotherapy. The idea is that the lesion will be frozen off. This doesn't remove the virus from your system however it gets rid of the symptoms. It is the symptoms of the lesions.
This is the standard advice from doctors. I assume that you are reading this article because you are not happy with this answer. However, it should still be taken seriously. Mollsucum will go away on its own so if it is on an area where it is not being seen and it is not causing you any distress or affecting your quality of life leaving it alone is the best option. Given that children should not be sexually active watchful weighting is usually best.
There is an emerging technology which is highly effective at removing molluscum lesions within only a few weeks. It uses a pulse-dye laser to essentially destroy the cells that make up the spot (same sort of idea as the potassium hydroxide approach). The problem is that this is a new technology and you have to pay a private practice to have it done.
Does it Work?
Another Study, Same Results
Treatments That Don't Work
Homoeopathic remedies - these contain no active ingredient and have no effect whatsoever on viruses. There has been extensive study of homoeopathic medicine by medical researchers and the evidence presented demonstrates that homoeopathy does not work.
Bursting the spots - this is effective at removing the spots that you can see however it releases the virus onto your skin which increases the risk of new spots forming. Furthermore the risk of scarring is increased by bursting the spots. Therefore, don't do it,
The following treatments are used in certain cases or have limited/less evidence for their effectiveness.
- Nucleotide analog cidofovir (for HIV positive patients)
- HAART (for HIV positive patients)
- Imiquimod (immune enhancer)
- Oral cimetidine
Can You Have Sex With Molluscum?
This isn't an easy question to answer definitely. If you are in a monogamous relationship, most people would agree that the answer is yes. What you have to do is figure out what gives you and your partner the best quality of life. I don't think anyone would want their parter to sleep on the couch for months to prevent molluscum, which is really a minor annoyance for most people.
If you are having sex it is best to cover the molluscum with a plaster and treat as quickly as possible to keep the number of spots to a manageable size. Do not squeeze the spots to get rid of them quickly - this will make things worse. Focus on the treatments that work which are listed above.
Covering the affected area with clothing is likely to be effective. For example if you have molluscum on your chest wearing a t-shirt is likely to be a good barrier. As always condoms should be used. Put simply the current consensus is that contact with the spots is the cause of transmission so you need to prevent others coming into contact with them if you don't want to risk its spread. It is not yet entirely clear if intact lesions are contagious or if it is the discharge that is the problem. However it is best to assume that both are.