Molluscum contagiosum is a viral infection that causes wart-like bumps on the surface of the skin. It sometimes causes symptoms like pain and itchiness.

Also known as water warts, molluscum contagiosum spreads through skin-to-skin contact with someone who has it. You can also get molluscum contagiosum by touching objects — such as towels, toys, or clothes — used by someone who has it.

Molluscum contagiosum is typically harmless and doesn’t require treatment, but itchiness is sometimes one symptom.

Molluscum contagiosum sometimes causes itching.

It’s not clear why some people experience itchiness, also called pruritus, alongside molluscum contagiosum and others don’t. It may be a sign of the immune system working against the infection. It could also depend on your skin type.

It’s important to avoid scratching the area. When itching results in scratching, it can cause molluscum contagiosum lesions to spread to other areas of the body.

Molluscum contagiosum mostly causes clusters of raised round lesions on the surface of the skin. These lesions range in size from approximately 1 millimeter (mm) to 1 centimeter (cm). They can be white, pink, red, purple, or flesh-colored, and typically have a white middle.

Sometimes, the skin surrounding the lesions is affected by other symptoms. These can include:

Symptoms might worsen if you scratch the area. In addition, scratching can cause the lesions to rupture and bleed.

Molluscum contagiosum spots around the eyes or on the eyelids can sometimes lead to the development of pink eye (conjunctivitis).

Molluscum contagiosum is a common infection, especially among children and in tropical climates.

It sometimes resembles severe acne, particularly when it appears on the face, neck, shoulders, and back. It doesn’t usually affect the palms of the hands or the soles of the feet.

The following pictures provide a visual guide to help you identify molluscum contagiosum.

If you suspect you or your child has molluscum contagiosum, contact a health professional, such as a pharmacist, primary care doctor, or dermatologist.

While treatment may not be necessary, it’s important to rule out other conditions. Molluscum contagiosum is sometimes mistaken for warts, pimples, or infections like chickenpox. A healthcare professional can also help you learn more about how to avoid transmitting this condition to others.

Finally, you should make an appointment with a doctor if molluscum contagiosum symptoms are causing you discomfort or affecting an existing skin condition, such as eczema.

Molluscum contagiosum bumps typically disappear on their own. However, this process can take as long as 18 months and sometimes more. Many people decide to seek treatment to help clear up an infection sooner rather than later.

Some available treatments include:

  • Physical removal: In this treatment method, a doctor physically removes molluscum contagiosum lesions by freezing it, performing curettage, or laser therapy. These techniques can sometimes cause scarring.
  • Topical treatments: Topical treatments for molluscum contagiosum are applied to the skin to dissolve the lesions. Other topical medications minimize the skin’s inflammatory response.
  • Oral medication: Prescription medications, such as H2 receptor blockers like cimetidine and antivirals like cidofovir, may help.

Read more about the treatment of molluscum contagiosum.

If you have molluscum contagiosum, you might be wondering the following.

Is molluscum contagiosum an STD?

Molluscum contagiosum is considered a sexually transmitted infection (STI) when it’s spread through sexual contact with a partner who has it. In these cases, spots usually appear on the genitals, or inside the mouth. An STI is only considered a disease when it causes symptoms.

However, the condition doesn’t require sexual contact to spread from one person to another.

What causes molluscum contagiosum to flare up?

A flare-up of molluscum contagiosum might be a sign that your immune system is fighting the infection. Picking at the bumps or scratching the skin around the infection can also cause a flare-up.

What happens if you scratch molluscum contagiosum?

Scratching a molluscum contagiosum infection can cause the skin to become inflamed and irritated. It can also cause the infection to spread to other areas of your body via your fingers. Scratching can also lead to a bacterial infection, which may then require treatment.

If you find yourself scratching, you should avoid touching anything else and wash your hands immediately.

How do you stop molluscum contagiosum itching?

It’s important to speak with a healthcare professional about itchiness caused by molluscum contagiosum. A doctor or pharmacist can recommend a topical cream that will help to reduce itchiness and decrease your chances of scratching the infected area.

How do you know molluscum contagiosum is healing?

Molluscum contagiosum may appear to get worse before it gets better. If the bumps turn reddish and pimple-like, it usually means your body is fighting the virus. The bumps may fade after this change.

Molluscum contagiosum can sometimes cause itchiness. It’s not clear why some people with molluscum contagiosum experience itchiness and others don’t. Itchiness may be accompanied by redness, swelling, and sore skin.

It’s important to try not to scratch molluscum contagiosum bumps, as this can cause the infection to spread to other areas of your body. If you’re having difficulties with itchiness, speak with a doctor to find out what treatments are available.