Red spots on the skin are a common medical complaint. When the spots occur in outbreaks, they are sometimes termed rashes. Rashes can occur due to infections of the skin, disseminated infections (that have spread throughout the body), allergic reactions, or irritations of the skin. When a red bump or rash is flat, it is medically known as a macule. When the red spot is raised, it is known as a papule. Erythema is the medical term for redness of the skin.
Red spots on the skin that occur singly can be a small benign tumor of blood vessels, known as a hemangioma. Tiny, pinpoint hemorrhages can be seen in the skin and are referred to as petechiae. Bleeding disorders can also lead to the formation of purplish red spots that are larger, known as purpura.
Rashes can be associated with other symptoms, such as hives or itching. Red spots on the skin that are related to underlying medical conditions will be associated with symptoms of the underlying condition.
Related Symptoms & Signs
Other causes of red spots on the skin
- Bacterial Infections
- Bleeding Disorders
- Fungal Infections
- Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis
- Viral Infections
Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.Next Article
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Causes of Red Spots on the Skin
Acne is a localized skin inflammation as a result of overactivity of oil glands at the base of hair follicles. This inflammation, depending on its location, can take the form of a superficial pustule (contains pus), a pimple, a deeper cyst, congested pores, whiteheads, or blackheads. Treatments vary depending on the severity of the acne.
An allergy refers to a misguided reaction by our immune system in response to bodily contact with certain foreign substances. When these allergens come in contact with the body, it causes the immune system to develop an allergic reaction in people who are allergic to it. It is estimated that 50 million North Americans are affected by allergic conditions. The parts of the body that are prone to react to allergies include the eyes, nose, lungs, skin, and stomach. Common allergic disorders include hay fever, asthma, allergic eyes, allergic eczema, hives, and allergic shock.
Eczema is a general term for many types dermatitis (skin inflammation). Atopic dermatitis is the most common of the many types of eczema. Other types of eczema include: contact eczema, allergic contact eczema, seborrheic eczema, nummular eczema, stasis dermatitis, and dyshidrotic eczema.
Boils (Skin Abscesses)
A boil is a skin abscess, a collection of pus localized deep in the skin. There are several different types of boils. Among them are the following: furuncle or carbuncle, cystic acne, hidradenitis suppurativa, and pilonidal cyst.
Bug Bites and Stings
Bug bites and stings have been known to transmit insect-borne illnesses such as West Nile virus, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and Lyme disease. Though most reactions to insect bites and stings are mild, some reactions may be life-threatening. Preventing bug bites and stings with insect repellant, wearing the proper protective attire, and not wearing heavily scented perfumes when in grassy, wooded, and brushy areas is key.
Burns (First Aid)
Burn types are based on their severity: first-degree burns, second-degree burns, and third-degree burns. First-degree burns are similar to a painful sunburn. The damage is more severe with second-degree burns, leading to blistering and more intense pain. The skin turns white and loses sensation with third degree burns. Burn treatment depends upon the burn location, total burn area, and intensity of the burn.
Chickenpox (chicken pox) is a contagious childhood disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus. Symptoms have an incubation period of 14 to 16 days and include a couple days of mild fever, weakness, and red, raised rash that progresses to blisters that eventually burst and crust over. Complications include bacterial infection of the open sores, scarring, encephalitis, nerve palsies, and Reye's syndrome.
Contact dermatitis is a rash that occurs after exposure to an irritant. It can be allergic. Symptoms include a red, elevated rash at the site of contact with the irritating substance. Contact dermatitis treatment may involve: creams, application of cool water compresses, and applying topical steroids.
A diaper rash is a skin irritation that develops in the diaper-covered region. Most diaper rashes are caused by bacterial or yeast infections, though some may be caused by contact dermatitis or allergic reactions to the diapers and wipes. Cleansing with water and soft cloths, followed by application of petroleum jelly or zinc oxide and frequent diaper changes is the best treatment for a diaper rash.
Eczema refers to skin inflammation. There are many different types of eczema that produce symptoms and signs that range from oozing blisters to crusty plaques of skin. Treatment varies depending upon the type of eczema the person has.
Fifth Disease (Parvovirus, Erythema Infectiosum)
Fifth disease (erythema infectiosum) is caused by a virus known as parvovirus B 19. Symptoms include low-grade fever, fatigue, a "rash," and a rash over the whole body. The name fifth disease reflects the historical belief that it was one of the five diseases that produced a rash in children.
Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease
Hand, foot, and mouth syndrome is clinical pattern consisting of a rash on the hands and feet, and in the mouth. Hand, foot, and mouth syndrome is caused by various viruses, including several types of Coxsackieviruses. Other symptoms include sore throat, decreased appetite, irritability, and (or) fever.
Heat rash is a skin irritation caused by excessive sweating. It can occur at any age and it appears as a rash that itches or feels prickly, and looks like a red cluster of pimples or small blisters. Heat rash remedies include OTC creams and sprays. Usually heat rash resolves when the skin is cooled sufficiently. Medical treatment may be necessary if the sweat glands become infected.
How Do I Get Rid of Intertrigo?
Intertrigo is painful and itchy skin inflammation that occurs between skin folds, such as in the groin, buttocks, or between fat folds. Sometimes, bacteria can infect this red skin, worsening inflammation. Losing weight and various topical remedies – especially before workouts or jogging, etc. – can reduce the effects of intertrigo.
Idiopathic Thrombocytopenic Purpura (ITP)
Idiopathic means that the cause of the condition isn't known. Thrombocytopenic means there's a lower than normal number of platelets in the blood. Purpura refers to purple bruises caused by bleeding under the skin. Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP) is a bleeding condition in which the blood doesn't clot as it should. This is due to a low number of blood cell fragments called platelets.
Impetigo is a contagious skin infection caused by staph and strep bacteria. There are two types of impetigo: nonbullous and bullous. Symptoms of nonbullous impetigo include small blisters on the nose, face, arms, or legs and possibly swollen glands. Bullous impetigo signs include blisters in various areas, particularly in the buttocks area. Treatment involves gentle cleansing, removing the crusts of popped blisters, and the application of prescription-strength mupirocin antibiotic ointment.
Intertrigo is irritant dermatitis, usually found in skin folds, that is caused by rubbing, increased temperature, and moisture. Symptoms and signs include itching, burning, and a red rash. Affected areas may be treated with a weak topical steroid and barrier cream.
Kawasaki disease is a rare children's disease characterized by a fever that lasts more than five days and at least four of the following five symptoms are present: rash, swollen neck lymph gland, red tongue, swelling or redness of the hands or feet, and conjunctivitis. High doses of aspirin are used to treat Kawasaki disease. Cortisone and anti-inflammatory drugs may also be used during treatment.
Lupus (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus or SLE)
Systemic lupus erythematosus is a condition characterized by chronic inflammation of body tissues caused by autoimmune disease. Lupus can cause disease of the skin, heart, lungs, kidneys, joints, and nervous system. When only the skin is involved, the condition is called discoid lupus. When internal organs are involved, the condition is called systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).
Measles (rubeola) is a highly contagious disease that's caused by a virus. Symptoms include a rash, high fever, cough, runny nose, and red eyes. Treatment focuses on symptom relief. The disease can be prevented with the measles, mumps, rubella, and chickenpox (varicella) vaccine (MMRV).
Meningococcemia is a bloodstream infection caused by Neisseria meningitides. Meningococcemia symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, and body aches. Meningococcemia is treated with intravenous antibiotics. There is an effective and safe vaccine to protect against most serogroups of meningococcus that cause meningococcemia.
Pityriasis rosea is a rash that begins with a large pink patch with well-defined scaly borders on the back, chest, or neck. In one to two weeks, the person will develop many smaller pink patches on his or her trunk, arms, and legs. Symptoms include mild itching and possible sore throat, fatigue, nausea, aching, and decreased appetite. Pityriasis rosea typically resolves on its own and symptoms and signs may be treated with topical steroid creams and oral antihistamines.
Poison ivy, oak, and sumac contain a substance called urushiol, which causes a rash on people who come in contact with them. Symptoms and signs include a red, swollen, itchy, blistering, bumpy rash. Treatment involves rinsing the exposed area with water, taking antihistamines and over-the-counter pain medications, using topical treatments such as calamine lotion, and applying cool compresses.
Psoriasis is a long-term skin condition that may cause large plaques of red, raised skin, flakes of dry skin, and skin scales. There are several types of psoriasis, including psoriasis vulgaris, guttate psoriasis, inverse psoriasis, and pustular psoriasis. Symptoms vary depending on the type of psoriasis the patient has. Treatment of psoriasis may include creams, lotions, oral medications, injections and infusions of biologics, and light therapy. There is no cure for psoriasis.
Ramsay Hunt Syndrome
Ramsay Hunt syndrome is an infection of a facial nerve that causes a red painful rash with blisters and facial paralysis. Other symptoms of Ramsay Hunt syndrome may include: ear pain, hearing loss, dizziness (or vertigo), dry eye, and changes in taste sensation. The herpes zoster virus causes the infection. The infection is treated with: antiviral agents, steroids, and pain medications.
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that causes chronic inflammation of the joints, the tissue around the joints, as well as other organs in the body. Because it can affect multiple other organs of the body, rheumatoid arthritis is referred to as a systemic illness and is sometimes called rheumatoid disease. The 16 characteristic early RA signs and symptoms include the following. Anemia Both sides of the body affected (symmetric) Depression Fatigue Fever Joint deformity Joint pain Joint redness Joint stiffness Joint swelling Joint tenderness Joint warmth Limping Loss of joint function Loss of joint range of motion Many joints affected (polyarthritis)
The term "ringworm" or "ringworms" refers to fungal infections that are on the surface of the skin. A physical examination of the affected skin, evaluation of skin scrapings under the microscope, and culture tests can help doctors make the appropriate distinctions. A proper diagnosis is essential to successful treatment. Among the different types of ringworm are the following: tinea barbae, tinea capitis, tinea corporis, tinea cruris, tinea faciei, tinea manus, tinea pedis, and tinea unguium.
Rosacea is a skin disease that causes redness of the forehead, chin, and lower half of the nose. In addition to inflammation of the facial skin, symptoms include dilation of the blood vessels and pimples (acne rosacea) in the middle third of the face. Oral and topical antibiotics are treatments for rosacea. If left untreated, rhinophyma (a disfiguring nose condition) may result.
Roseola is a viral illness that most commonly affects young children. Symptoms and signs include a sudden high fever that lasts for three to five days, swollen neck glands, runny nose, puffy eyelids, diarrhea, irritability, and a bulging soft spot on the head.
Scabies are itch mites that burrow under the skin and produce intense itching that's usually worse at night. Symptoms of scabies are small bumps and blisters on the wrists, knees, between the fingers, on the back of the elbows, in the groin and on the buttocks. Treatment involves applying a mite-killing cream, antihistamines for itch relief, washing bedclothes and linens.
Scarlet Fever (Scarlatina)
Scarlet fever, a bacterial infection caused by group A Streptococcus bacteria, causes symptoms and signs such as fever, rash with a sandpaper-like texture, and sore throat. Oral penicillin is the standard treatment for scarlet fever, or scarlatina.
Shingles, or herpes zoster, is a painful rash caused by the varicella zoster virus. Other shingles symptoms include headache, fever, nausea, and body aches. Treatment focuses on pain management and shortening the duration of the illness with antiviral medications.
The word "rash" means an outbreak of red bumps on the body. The way people use this term, "a rash" can refer to many different skin conditions. The most common of these are scaly patches of skin and red, itchy bumps or patches all over the place.
Tinea versicolor is a fungus infection that mainly affects the skin of young people. Recognized by light or reddish brown spots, and areas lighter than the surrounding skin. Tinea versicolor is caused by yeast actually found in our skin. Factors like heat, humidity, and sweat help it proliferate in people, resulting in a rash that is not contagious to others.