red spots on skin

Red Spots on Skin: What’s Causing Them and How Can They Be Treated?

Red spots on your skin can be caused by a number of things, and you’ll need to pinpoint the cause to treat the spots effectively. In this blog, we discuss common reasons for red spots on the skin and how to treat them. 

What Causes Small Red Spots on the Skin?

There are many reasons you may be seeing red spots on your skin. Pityriasis rosea, acne, atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, petechiae, and rashes are some of the most common causes. It can be a bit overwhelming to learn there are this many possible causes, so let’s break them down. 

  • Pityriasis Rosea

Pityriasis rosea is most commonly recognized by a herald patch (also known as a mother patch), which is the only noticeable red patch for one to two weeks. A herald patch can appear pink to violet in color depending on your skin tone. 

Following the mother patch, other patches will appear on your torso, upper arms, thighs, or neck. These newer patches, known as daughter patches, are smaller than the mother patch and are oval shaped. Patches caused by pityriasis rosea can last up to ten weeks. 

  • Acne

Acne is an extremely common skin condition that affects millions of Americans. The four types of acne are comedones, papules and pustules, nodules, and cystic acne. Acne is caused by a combination of oil production, clogged pores, bacteria, and inflammation. Acne can lead to skin discoloration and permanent scarring. While acne is not harmful, it can affect a person’s self esteem. 

  • Atopic Dermatitis

If you often find yourself breaking out in red spots, you may have atopic dermatitis. This is a skin condition that affects the skin’s ability to protect from allergens, irritants, and bacteria. Atopic dermatitis cannot be cured, but there are ways to manage it and to reduce the discomfort caused by symptoms. 

  • Psoriasis 

There are many types of psoriasis that can leave you with red spots on your skin. However, the most common type of psoriasis is plaque psoriasis, affecting approximately 6.7 million adults in the US. Plaque psoriasis can be considered mild, moderate, or severe depending on the percentage of the body affected. 

  • Petechiae

While you may not recognize the name petechiae, you’ll probably recognize these tiny spots of bleeding under your skin. These spots are not raised or bumpy and can be purple, red, or brown in color. These red spots on the skin are caused by broken blood vessels. They’re often found on the legs, mouth, stomach, butt, eyelids, legs, and arms. 

How can you tell the difference between petechiae and a rash? A rash will turn pale or lighter if pressed on while petechiae will remain the same color. There are many reasons petechiae may appear, some harmless and others serious, so discuss these red spots with your dermatologist. 

  • Rashes

This might seem like a catch all section, but rashes can be caused by medications, irritants (such as poison ivy), or an infection. Rashes are often the cause for spots on toddlers. Medications most known for causing a rash include antibiotics, NSAIDs, and antiseizure medication. 

Irritants can be difficult to identify, but dust mites, latex, and animal dander are often found to be the cause of allergic rashes. Certain cosmetics, plants, and nickel can also be to blame. There are many infections, including viral, bacterial, and fungal infections, that can cause red spots on your skin. These infections include chickenpox and rubella, which we’ll talk about more in the next section.

What Viruses Cause Small Red Spots? 

Certain viruses can cause red spots on your skin, and you’ve probably heard of many of them. They include: chickenpox, roseola, rubella, measles, and fifth disease. While they all produce red spots, there are other ways to tell the difference between these viruses.

  • Chickenpox

We all know about chickenpox, but did you know the fluid-filled blisters start out as an itchy, red rash? This rash starts on the face, back, and chest, but can quickly spread to other areas of the body. 

  • Roseola

Roseola first starts as a high fever that often lasts up to a week. Once the fever has set in, a spotty pink rash, which is slightly raised, begins to cover the stomach or chest. This rash often fades within 24 hours.

  • Rubella

Rubella, which is also known as German measles, starts as a rash on the face before spreading to other areas of the body. This rash only lasts about three days.

  • Measles

Measles, not to be confused with German measles, starts with a rash forming around the ears and mouth. The rash begins as red, flat spots, but can later turn into white spots that are raised on top of existing red spots. These start to form one large spot as the measles progress.

  • Fifth Disease

Fifth disease, which is often referred to as slapped cheek disease, is first noticeable when a red rash appears on your cheek (hence the nickname). Once the rash on the face has disappeared, a light pink rash that looks like lace appears on the chest and arms. 

Can Stress Cause Tiny Red Spots or Rashes?

Yes, stress can cause tiny red spots or rashes. If stress is the cause of your red spots, then you may be experiencing hives. Hives can occur anywhere on your body and can range in size, from a small pen mark to the size of a dinner plate. Hives can last up to six weeks, but there are treatment options to relieve your symptoms. 

When Should I be Worried About a Red Spot on My Skin?

Although skin rashes are often more annoying than harmful, there are some that can be serious. Seek immediate medical attention if: 

  • The rash affects the eyes
  • The rash is oozing or blistering
  • Blue, red, or purple dots appear in the affected area
  • The rash is accompanied by a fever, dizziness, shortness of breath, a stiff neck, or vomiting

How Do I Treat Red Spots on My Skin?

How you treat the red spots on your skin will be based on their cause, which we now know can be anything from a virus to an irritant. The first step to effectively treating red spots on the skin is to have your dermatologist conduct a skin exam. This will help identify the cause of the red spots so that an appropriate treatment plan can be implemented.

For many causes of red spots on skin, at-home treatments can help alleviate symptoms. The most common way to reduce the need to itch your skin (which can lead to tears and infection), is to avoid overheating. This means avoiding intense exercise and taking lukewarm showers until the rash has disappeared. It’s also important to protect the affected skin from sunlight and to use fragrance-free soaps and moisturizers to keep your skin hydrated.

Antihistamines are one of the most common medications prescribed to treat red spots. This can help alleviate itching and discomfort. Other medications, like corticosteroids and skin barrier creams, are used to control itching, reduce redness, and repair the skin’s barrier. Depending on the cause of your red spots, antibiotics, prednisone, or immunosuppressants may be prescribed.

Book Your Appointment

If you have red spots on your skin, our expert dermatologists here at Vujevich Dermatology Associates can conduct a skin examination to identify the cause and recommend the appropriate treatment. You can reach our team at 412-429-2570 or visit our contact page to see all of our locations or book your appointment below. You can also follow us on Facebook to see what’s new in the world of dermatology. 

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