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Molluscum contagiosum is a common, yet irritating, skin condition that can occur in children. It’s caused by a virus, so it’s easily transmitted through direct contact with the skin of an infected person. It is very contagious. Once all of the bumps are gone, it is no longer contagious.

The virus causes noticeable and often numerous bumps that look like warts on a child’s skin.

While there are invasive treatments, like surgical removal, some parents may wish to try at-home methods to reduce the appearance of these bumps.

At-home treatments for molluscum contagiosum

Many at-home treatments for molluscum contagiosum won’t necessarily cure the condition, but they will relieve the itching and tingling that can occur. Most of the bumps will go away on their own with time. Always talk to your pediatrician before beginning any at-home treatments to ensure that the treatments don’t do more harm than good.

Colloidal oatmeal baths

Soothe irritated and itchy skin with a colloidal oatmeal bath. Colloidal oatmeal is finely ground oatmeal that can be added to warm (but not hot) bath water. The oatmeal has special triglycerides, which are fatty acids that can coat the skin and have anti-inflammatory properties. You can purchase colloidal oatmeal in packets at most drugstores or discount superstores. You can also make your own bath by grinding old-fashioned oats in a food processor or coffee bean grinder. To ensure you’ve grinded the oats enough, add a spoonful of oats to warm water. If they don’t turn the water into a milk-like texture, you may need to grind them more.

Limit your colloidal oatmeal bath to 10 to 15 minutes. Longer could dry out your skin, which could irritate molluscum contagiosum. You could also mix the colloidal oatmeal in a bowl or glass and dip a washcloth in it, applying the washcloth to areas of irritated skin.

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Tea tree oil

One at-home treatment option is tea tree oil. It can be purchased at most health stores and drug stores. According to the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, applications of tea tree oil combined with iodine twice per day significantly reduced mollusca lesions.

While the children in the study experienced a reduction in symptoms with just the application of tea tree oil, the combination of tea tree oil and iodine offered the greatest results.

Tea tree oil is a known antiseptic. But it can cause an allergic reaction in some children. Test a small unaffected area with the oil, and if there is no reaction by 24 hours it should be safe to use. Also, children shouldn’t consume the tea tree oil. Don’t apply tea tree oil on a child who isn’t old enough to understand the importance of not eating the oil.

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Australian lemon myrtle

Another at-home treatment that has been studied is Australian lemon myrtle. According to a study published in the journal Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy, applying a 10 percent solution of Australian lemon myrtle once a day reduced symptoms by 90 percent or more.

Australian lemon myrtle is available in most health food stores. It can be applied daily. According to the study, lesions are typically reduced after 21 days of regular application.

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Coconut oil

Coconut oil is a soothing skin oil that’s extracted from the kernel of mature coconuts from the coconut palm. The oil has high contents of fatty acids, which helps to prevent skin from drying out. These fatty acids also have anti-inflammatory properties. Applying coconut oil to irritated skin can help the skin retain moisture, making it less itchy.

Coconut oil can be purchased at most health food stores and drugstores. Avoid preparations that have perfumes added to them, as this could irritate the skin.

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Symptoms of molluscum contagiosum

Molluscum contagiosum can cause bumps to appear on virtually any area of the body. This includes around the eyes and eyelids, which causes pearl-like, round bumps with a rounded center.

Other areas a child may experience the bumps include the:

  • face
  • neck
  • armpits
  • arms

If children pick at the bumps, this can cause them to spread further (and kids are often very good at picking at bumps).

Other characteristics of molluscum contagiosum include:

  • warts appear in numbers that can range from two to 20
  • dimpled in the center, which may have the appearance of a thick, white substance inside
  • firm and domed in shape
  • shiny in appearance
  • typically either flesh-colored or pink in tone
  • usually painless, but may be itchy

Doctors can usually diagnose molluscum contagiosum through examining the lesions. But it’s also possible to take a sample of one of the nodules to confirm a diagnosis.

Medical treatments for molluscum contagiosum

After a doctor diagnoses a child with molluscum, the bumps will usually go away on their own. This process could take anywhere from a few months to a year.

If a child is immunocompromised (such as having a childhood cancer), the bumps could take longer to go away.

If your child is older and feels self-conscious about the bumps, there are several treatments available at your doctor’s office. These include:

  • Cryotherapy: This involves applying a solution of liquid nitrogen to the bumps that “freezes” them off. This can be painful to your child, so doctors don’t always recommend it.
  • Scraping: Surgically removing the bumps can help them disappear, but it can be painful. It’s possible the bumps can come back, however. This can also have the effect of leaving scars after the procedure.
  • Medications: A doctor can prescribe medications for regular application to help the bumps go away. Examples include salicylic acid.

Note: Even though salicylic acid can be purchased over the counter, the medications aren’t as strong as the prescription version. Other medications a doctor may prescribe include tretinoin, benzoyl peroxide, or cantharidin. Some of these medication cannot be used or applied by a pregnant person. Talk to your doctor.

Applying treatments as quickly as possible can keep the bumps from spreading. A doctor should explain the potential side effects to you and your child, including:

  • blistering
  • pain
  • discoloration
  • scarring

Treatment probably won’t shorten the time until it is gone, but may help symptoms.

Preventing the spread of molluscum contagiosum

In addition to treating your child’s bumps, you may also wish to engage in preventive measures to keep them from coming back or spreading to other children.

Examples of preventive steps you can take include:

  • encouraging your child not to scratch or rub at the bumps
  • encouraging your child to wash their hands regularly
  • washing the growths with soap and water regularly to keep them clean
  • covering the growths with clothing (such as long sleeves) or a watertight bandage if your child is participating in group activities like swimming or wrestling
  • changing the bandage over bumps daily
  • teaching your child to refrain from sharing personal items like towels, clothing, or water toys while swimming
  • teaching your child not to scratch or pick at bumps on another child’s skin

Following these steps can help prevent the spread of molluscum contagiosum. It is best to keep the child away from people who are on chemotherapy or otherwise immunocompromised.

Next steps

Always talk to your pediatrician before using at-home treatments to ensure you don’t cause greater harm. If you keep your child’s skin clean and dry, and encourage your child to practice preventive measures, the infection shouldn’t come back.