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Molluscum contagiosum in adults

If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with molluscum contagiosum as an adult (or you’re concerned you might have it), here’s where you can find more information about how you can help prevent it spreading and what causes it. Further down the page, you’ll also find more information about molluscum contagiosum from Dr Rob Hicks.

What causes molluscum contagiosum in adults?

Molluscum contagiosum is a common and generally harmless condition that causes spots on the skin. It is most common in children and adolescents, but it can affect adults too. The condition tends to be more common and extensive in adults who have atopic eczema. Sometimes people whose immune system is severely weakened due to a severe illness (such as HIV) or taking immunosuppressive treatment (such as chemotherapy) are more at risk of developing molluscum contagiosum.

Molluscum often disappears within 18 months of its own accord. However, the problem can take longer to clear as during this time new spots may develop while old spots are fading. This can make adults feel highly embarrassed or self-conscious about their condition. It can also affect daily life and interactions with children, partner and friends.

NHS consultation on molluscum contagiosum

What does molluscum look like in adults?

Molluscum bumps in adults are often between 2mm and 6mm in diameter, but they can grow larger, up to 10mm to 20mm. There are typically less than 20 molluscum bumps on the body, however, in some rare instances, people have reported over 100 bumps.

How is molluscum contagiosum diagnosed in adults?

Any strange bumps on the skin should be examined by a healthcare provider, particularly if they appear in the genital area. Your GP or local sexual health clinic should be able to diagnose a molluscum infection based on a physical examination. Sometimes a biopsy of the bumps is necessary. This generally involves them being removed using a small scalpel.

molluscum contagiosum spots

Advice on molluscum contagiosum, from Dr Rob Hicks

Finding spots anywhere on the skin can be worrying….

Particularly when you’re not sure precisely what they are. But finding spots on or around the genitals usually sends people into a panic with them fearing the worst. Mention genital herpes or genital warts and most people have some idea of what these are, where they occur and how they are contracted. After all, these sexually transmitted infections are passed from one person to another through close physical contact are commonly featured in the news and in magazine articles.

Another viral infection that can also be transmitted through close physical contact and that can cause lesions in the genital area, is molluscum contagiosum (MC). This very common and relatively harmless infection has not yet found itself under the media spotlight but may well find itself under the spotlight when visiting the doctor.

People often think they’ve got genital warts when they see the firm, dome-shaped raised spots, which may be dimpled and can be as small as 1 millimetre or as large as half a centimetre, that are typical of MC. It’s an easy mistake to make and the reason why getting a correct diagnosis is important. The GP can do this, but many people still feel embarrassed about ‘problems down below’ so when this is the case visiting the local sexual health clinic, also known as the genito-urinary medicine (GUM) clinic, is another good option.

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Being told the infection is not warts or herpes often brings a degree of relief….

since more often than not a person would have been very anxious about what was going on ‘down there’. Then, to make things even better they’re told that the infection will clear up on its own. Marvellous, they think. However, in the same breath the doctor will add ‘within about 18 months’. During this time as some spots heal others appear, and so on, until the MC is a thing of the past.

Most people would rather not be constantly reminded that they have an infection around their genitals and would like things back to normal as soon as possible. There is treatment available and this can help lessen the embarrassment and awkwardness a person feels about their infection.

Treatment of MC is particularly recommended….

When a person may pass the infection on to sexual partners, or when the infection is detrimentally affecting someone’s quality of life. Freezing treatment (cryotherapy), as is used to treat genital warts, can also be used to treat MC. For those who’d rather not have so many visits to the doctor for treatment and would prefer to have treatment in the privacy of their own home other topical treatments are available, some of which are from the pharmacist over the counter without a prescription.

Topical treatment can be used for those who have MC around their outer genital area only, as long as it is not found on the mucous membranes (the moist, mucous producing part of the body. For men, this includes the head of the penis and the inner layer of the foreskin, and in women the clitoris and vagina). I would always recommend seeing your GP or local sexual health clinic to obtain a diagnosis before commencing any treatment. Using a condom while having sex can reduce the risk of passing on MC during sexual contact.

There’s often an urge to get rid of spots by whatever means possible. However, squeezing, picking, or scratching the MC is a no-no. Not only can this behaviour be very painful, it makes it more likely that the infection will spread elsewhere around the body. Moreover, there’s the risk of introducing secondary bacterial infection into the skin and of leaving the areas of skin permanently scarred. The last thing most people want is to replace one skin lesion with another.

Dr Hicks was paid to write this guest blog and does not endorse our product or brand.