Red spots on the skin stem from various causes. Dermatitis may result from irritating substances, ringworms from fungal infections, purpura from burst blood vessels, and autoimmune conditions that can trigger rashes. While some spots resolve on their own, others require treatment. Explore 13 potential causes of red spots, learn if they warrant concern, and discover when immediate medical attention is necessary.
On the other hand, skin spots appear differently across various tones. Acne may appear red on lighter skin and dark spots on darker tones.
1. Heat Rash (Miliaria)
Sun-induced red spots, known as “heat rash” or miliaria, result from blocked sweat glands under the skin, leading to small, itchy, or painful red bumps. Typically found in skin folds and sweat-prone areas like the armpits, chest, back, arms, and groin.
Living in hot climates, excessive sweating, or prolonged bed rest increases the risk of heat rash. Treat it by cooling the skin with baths, cold compresses, and loose clothing. Avoid thick moisturizers that trap heat.
Heat rash typically improves within days, but if the skin is injured, it may lead to infection. Severe cases may require oral or topical antibiotics to alleviate pain and clear the infection.
Contact your healthcare provider if you observe signs of infection, such as a whitish color over the heat rash, flaking skin, or pus-like discharge.
2. Cherry Angiomas
Cherry angiomas are common skin growths, appearing as round red or purple spots, often on the torso of adults aged 30 and older. While they may change in size and bleed, they are not cancerous.
Diagnosis involves a provider’s examination, and treatment is typically unnecessary. Removal options such as lasers or liquid nitrogen can be explored, usually causing minimal discomfort.
3. Contact Dermatitis
Red spots can result from contact dermatitis triggered by irritants or allergens. It manifests as an itchy rash with bumps, leading to swollen, dry, flaky skin anywhere on the body.
Two types exist:
• Irritant contact dermatitis stems from a weakened skin barrier reacting to substances.
• Allergic contact dermatitis results from an abnormal immune response to allergens.
Identifying the cause isn’t always straightforward, and a patch test may be needed. Typically resolving in weeks, avoiding the triggering substance is key. Treatment involves OTC hydrocortisone cream or prescription antihistamines for itching relief.
4. Ringworm (Tinea Corporis)
Red spots may stem from infections like ringworm (tinea corporis), a common fungal skin issue. It manifests as a circular rash with raised edges, causing flaking without much pain.
Ringworm can affect any body part but is frequently found on arms and legs. Highly contagious, it spreads easily through skin contact, touching contaminated surfaces, or contact with pets carrying the fungus.
Diagnosis relies on visual examination. Treatments involve over-the-counter or prescription antifungal creams. Neglect may prompt spreading, requiring oral antifungal drugs for resolution.
5. Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema)
Red spots may result from chronic skin conditions like atopic dermatitis (eczema), causing itchy, scaly rashes, often in skin folds. It’s prevalent in children under 5 and diagnosed through a physical exam.
Treatment involves topical steroids, antihistamines, or oral steroids for severe cases. Keeping the skin moisturized is recommended to minimize flare-ups. Hot or long showers and irritating skincare products can exacerbate redness and itchiness in people with eczema.
6. Drug Rash
Red spots on the skin may result from allergens, like drug rashes triggered by medication allergies. These reactions can manifest as hives, rashes, or blisters, ranging from mild to severe. Emergency care may be necessary in severe cases.
The rash can affect the entire body or a specific area, often requiring a healthcare provider’s assessment. Discontinuing the medication may not always resolve the issue, prompting the use of treatments like steroids or antihistamines for relief from swelling and pain.
7. Pityriasis Rosea
Kids and teens may develop red spots due to pityriasis rosea, a common, benign rash affecting adolescents. It starts with a larger red spot on the chest, torso, or back, followed by smaller ring-shaped, scaly, and itchy spots.
The cause of pityriasis rosea is uncertain, but it’s associated with viral or bacterial infections, often appearing post-infection. Symptoms may include headache, sore throat, and fever. Diagnosis is usually based on appearance, and the rash may resolve on its own in six to eight weeks. Treatment options include steroids, antihistamines, or antiviral drugs to alleviate itching and swelling.
8. Blood Spots (Purpura)
Red or purple spots on the skin, known as purpura, result from burst blood vessels, pooling blood under the skin or in the mouth. While not always problematic, widespread blood spots may signal an underlying medical issue, such as a blood clotting disorder.
To diagnose the cause, a healthcare provider conducts a physical exam and orders blood tests, including a platelet count assessment. Treatment for purpura may involve steroid prescriptions, and if platelet counts are low, intravenous medications may be necessary.
9. Swimmer’s Itch (Cercarial Dermatitis)
Swimmer’s itch, or cercarial dermatitis, causes itchy red spots after swimming in water contaminated with schistosome parasites. These parasites exist in both freshwater and saltwater.
The rash appears within a day of exposure but isn’t contagious. Treatment involves topical steroids, oral antihistamines for symptoms, and antibiotics if the infection persists.
Red spots may stem from psoriasis, an immune disorder triggered by stress, meds, or injury. Identified by itchy, red plaques, often on elbows and knees. Diagnosis involves visual inspection or skin biopsy.
Treatment varies, including topical steroids, immune suppressants, and UV therapy. Relief methods include cold compresses, moisturizers, and oatmeal baths to alleviate itching.
11. Lichen Planus
Red spots on the skin may result from autoimmune diseases like lichen planus, affecting various body areas. This condition, characterized by flat, itchy, purple rashes, can manifest in the mouth, nails, scalp, genitals, eyes, throat, and digestive tract.
Although the cause of lichen planus remains unclear, experts suggest a potential genetic link. It predominantly affects women and individuals aged 30 to 60. Notably, lichen planus is non-contagious, and while it may resolve on its own, recurrence is possible.
Diagnosis involves a physical exam by a healthcare provider. Treatment options include topical steroids, retinoids, or oral antihistamines to alleviate symptoms associated with lichen planus.
Red spots resembling a rash, known as petechiae, result from burst blood vessels beneath the skin. They are smaller and more diffuse than cherry angiomas.
Petechiae suddenly appear on the arms, legs, stomach, and buttocks, spreading without itching. Not a condition itself, but a symptom linked to infection, trauma, bleeding disorders, or allergies.
Seek a provider’s help to identify the cause. Infections such as fungal, viral, or bacterial, including strep throat and scarlet fever, are known triggers.
If petechiae aren’t spreading and show no signs of infection, treatment may not be necessary. However, the presence of fever suggests a potentially serious infection requiring immediate attention.
13. Pimples (Acne Vulgaris)
Red spots, often pimples, appear on the face, chest, and upper back due to blocked pores from oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria.
Mild acne is treatable at home with over-the-counter products. Cystic acne, a severe form, may need dermatologist intervention. Treatments include topical medications, oral antibiotics, isotretinoin, steroid injections, chemical peels, and hormonal contraceptives.
***Consult a healthcare provider if you notice red spots on your skin, as they can assess the rash, your medical history, and underlying conditions. Watch for red flag symptoms like fever, fatigue, difficulty breathing, severe pain, swelling, or pus from the rash; seek prompt medical attention in such cases.