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Red Spots on Skin- Causes and Treatment

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Red spots on the skin are a common medical complaint. The article below provides an overview of the causes and treatment of red spots.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Dhepe Snehal Madhav

Published At December 7, 2022
Reviewed AtApril 18, 2023

What Are Red Spots?

Red spots occurring on the skin are common. They are sometimes called rashes when they occur in outbreaks. Red spots can develop on the skin for many reasons, including infections, medical conditions, irritation, or allergies. Some fade away on their own, but others require treatment. Because it can sometimes be challenging to determine the underlying cause of red spots, it is essential to seek a diagnosis from a healthcare provider.

What Causes Red Spots?

Here are the most common causes of red spots on the skin:

Heat Rash (Miliaria):

  • Heat rash is formed when sweat glands get clogged under the skin.

  • It often occurs in skin folds or sweaty body parts, such as the armpits, chest, back, arms, and groin.

  • Heat rash appears as small, red, or filled with clear fluid, prickly bumps that can be itchy or painful.

  • People living in hot, humid climates, bedridden, and those who sweat a lot are more prone to heat rash.

  • Heat rash is generally not concerning and often resolves on its own within a couple of days when the skin cools off. Heat rash treatment involves cooling showers, using cold compresses, wearing loose-fitted clothes, avoiding thick moisturizers that trap heat, and applying ointments and creams, such as calamine lotion, to relieve the itching and steroid creams for more severe cases.

Cherry Angiomas:

  • A cherry angioma, also called a cherry hemangioma, is a small, non-cancerous skin growth made up of blood vessels.

  • Cherry angiomas appear as round red or purple spots. These bumps can be raised or flat, commonly seen in adults aged 30 and older.

  • Cherry angiomas usually develop on the torso but can also occur on the arms, legs, and scalp.

  • Cherry angiomas are harmless and usually do not require treatment. They can be removed for cosmetic purposes or if they repeatedly bleed. The healthcare provider may recommend painless removal procedures, such as excision, electrocautery, cryosurgery, and laser removal.

Contact Dermatitis:

  • Contact dermatitis is a common cutaneous condition when the skin comes into contact with an irritant or allergen.

  • It usually appears as itchy red bumps. The common symptoms of contact dermatitis may include redness, hives, swelling, burning, itching, and crusting on the skin.

  • Contact dermatitis often fades up on its own in a few weeks when the substance that caused it is avoided. However, an over-the-counter Hydrocortisone cream or prescription oral antihistamines may be beneficial to soothe the itch.

Ringworm (Tinea Corporis):

  • Ringworm (tinea corporis) is a contagious skin infection caused by a fungus. It presents as red, itchy, circular rashes with raised edges. In some cases, ringworm can cause flaking and peeling.

  • The condition is harmless and is often seen on the arms and legs, though ringworm can appear anywhere on the body.

  • The condition does not improve unless the fungus is killed. It is treated with over-the-counter or prescription antifungal medications. If it is not treated correctly, ringworm can spread from one to another and may require oral antifungal drugs.

Drug Rash:

  • Drug rash or drug eruptions is the immune system's abnormal reaction to certain drugs. It can happen due to drug hypersensitivity or a drug's adverse effects, such as photosensitive reactions.

  • These rashes can appear as hives, rashes, or blisters. In addition, they can also be itchy.

  • The rashes can be mild to severe. Severe cases may require emergency medical care.

  • The appearance of the rashes varies depending on whether the reaction affects the entire body or only certain parts of the body.

  • If the condition does not clear after stopping the medication, the doctor may prescribe other drugs, such as steroids or antihistamines, to help reduce the symptoms.

Pityriasis Rosea:

  • Pityriasis rosea is an inflammatory dermatological condition that usually affects teens, adolescents, and adults.

  • The exact cause of pityriasis rosea is unknown, but experts believe it may result from a viral or bacterial infection.

  • The rashes are often called Christmas tree rashes because it usually starts with a larger oval-shaped red spot or patch on the chest, back, or abdomen resembling a Christmas tree.

  • Followed by the larger spots, smaller red spots having a ring-like shape may appear on other parts of the body that may be scaly and itchy.

  • The other pityriasis symptoms include sore throat, itching that gets worse when the skin gets warm, headache, and fever.

  • Pityriasis rosea may sometimes disappear in six to eight weeks without any treatment. However, in some cases, the healthcare provider may recommend a steroid, antihistamine, or antiviral medication to help manage itching and swelling.

Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema):

  • Atopic dermatitis or eczema is a long-term skin condition commonly seen in children aged five years.

  • The exact cause of atopic dermatitis is still unclear. However, it is believed to be a genetic problem or the immune system's overreaction to a trigger.

  • The condition causes red, itchy, scaly, painful rashes in skin folds like the elbows, neck, wrists, and behind the knees or ears. The rashes may flare up throughout adult life.

  • Treatment may involve keeping the skin well-moisturized to manage flare-ups. In addition, topical steroid creams, antihistamines, or oral steroids may help treat severe cases.

Psoriasis:

  • Psoriasis is an immune-mediated skin disorder that commonly causes scaly, itchy red rashes on the scalp, elbows, knees, or other body sites.

  • The exact cause of psoriasis is not known. However, it is likely to result from genetics and environmental factors.

  • Psoriasis can be triggered by various factors, such as stress, medications, infection, injury, or environmental factors.

  • Treatment typically varies with the severity of the skin lesions and may include immune suppressant drugs, topical steroid creams, and UV light therapy. In addition, applying cold compresses and moisturizers and taking oatmeal baths can also reduce itching.

Lichen Planus:

  • Lichen planus is an autoimmune condition that causes raised, reddish-purple bumps, most commonly on the mouth, nails, wrist, back, ankles, scalp, genitals, eyes, throat, and digestive tract.

  • The disease is often seen in women or people aged 30 to 60.

  • Lichen planus is not contagious and can fade or become a chronic issue. Health care may provide treatment options, such as topical steroids, retinoids, light therapy, or oral antihistamines.

Pimples (Acne Vulgaris):

  • Pimples or acne vulgaris are caused when pores get blocked by oils, dead skin cells, and bacteria.

  • They appear inflamed with red spots on the face, chest, and upper back.

  • Over-the-counter acne creams may help treat pimples. More severe forms of acne, called cystic acne, are treated with topical acne medications, chemical peels, oral antibiotics Isotretinoin, steroid injections, and hormonal contraceptives.

When to See a Doctor?

See a healthcare professional immediately if the following symptoms accompany the red spots. These may indicate a possible infection.

  • Fever.

  • Fatigue.

  • Difficulty breathing.

  • Severe pain or swelling.

  • Pus oozing out from the rash.

Conclusion

Red spots on the skin are a relatively common problem and are not always a reason to worry. There are numerous causes of red spots on the skin. Conditions like heat rash, cherry angiomas, lichen planus, and pityriasis rosea usually clear up on their own and require no treatment. Others may require medical attention, like pimples, atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, psoriasis, and ringworm. See a doctor if the symptoms are causing severe discomfort or do not improve after trying over-the-counter medications.

Frequently Asked Questions

1.

What Causes Red Spots on the Skin?

Red spots can develop on the skin for many reasons, including heat rash, cherry angiomas (skin growths comprising blood vessels), lichen planus (a skin condition commonly occurring in the mouth and scalp), pityriasis rosea (a skin condition causing red scaly patch), pimples, atopic dermatitis (a type of skin irritation), contact dermatitis, psoriasis (a skin condition with scaly patches), and ringworm. 

2.

What Do Leukemia Blood Spots Look Like?

One of the noticeable symptoms of leukemia is tiny red spots on the skin. These pinpoints of blood are known as petechiae. These spots may appear as red or purple dots on people with lighter skin tones. On darker skin tones, they may appear darker than the surrounding skin and less noticeable. 

3.

Do Red Spots Go Away?

Conditions like heat rash, cherry angiomas, lichen planus, and pityriasis rosea usually clear up on their own and require no treatment. Others may require medical attention, like pimples, atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, psoriasis, and ringworm. 

4.

What Causes Cherry Angiomas?

The actual cause of cherry angioma is unknown, but a genetic factor may make some people more likely to get them. Cherry angioma is also related to pregnancy, chemical exposure, certain medical conditions, and climate.

5.

How to Get Rid of Cherry Angiomas?

Cherry angiomas are harmless and usually do not require treatment. They can be removed for cosmetic purposes or if they repeatedly bleed. The healthcare provider may recommend painless removal procedures, such as excision, electrocautery, cryosurgery, and laser removal.

6.

What Do Lymphoma Spots Look Like?

When lymphoma affects the skin, it can cause a rash that appears as one or multiple scaly, reddish-to-purple patches, plaques, or nodules. 

7.

Are Red Spots Cancerous?

A red spot can develop for many reasons, most of which are unrelated to cancer. A cancerous spot could appear like rough and scaly red patches. Leukemia, a type of blood cancer, is known to cause red spots on the skin. These tiny spots are called petechiae which indicate low platelet levels. 

8.

How to Get Rid of Red Spots on the Skin?

Treatment involves cooling showers, cold compresses, oatmeal baths, wearing loose-fitted clothes, avoiding thick moisturizers that trap heat, and applying ointments and creams, such as calamine lotion, topical steroids, retinoids, light therapy, or oral antihistamines.

9.

What Does a Heat Rash Look Like?

Heat rash treatment involves cooling showers, using cold compresses, wearing loose-fitted clothes, avoiding thick moisturizers that trap heat, and applying ointments and creams, such as calamine lotion, to relieve the itching and steroid creams for more severe cases.

10.

How Long Does a Heat Rash Last?

Heat rash is generally not concerning and often resolves on its own within a couple of days when the skin cools off. In some individuals, it may irritate the skin and cause rashes. Avoiding exposure to heat helps to cool the skin and heal better. If the heat rash lasts more days, it may indicate any underlying infections.   

11.

When to Worry About a Red Spot on the Skin?

Consult a healthcare professional immediately if the following symptoms accompany the red spots. These may indicate a possible infection.
- Fever.
- Fatigue.
- Difficulty breathing.
- Severe pain or swelling.
- Pus oozing out from the rash.

12.

Are Red Spots on the Skin Serious?

Red spots on the skin are a relatively common problem and are not always a reason to worry. There are numerous causes of red spots on the skin. Conditions such as heat rash, cherry angiomas, lichen planus, and pityriasis rosea usually clear up naturally and require no treatment. Others may require medical attention, like pimples, atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, psoriasis, and ringworm. 
Dr. Dhepe Snehal Madhav
Dr. Dhepe Snehal Madhav

Venereology

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