To find out exactly what’s behind your red spots, make an appointment with your doctor and have them examined. In the meantime, here are 10 of the most common causes of red spots on the skin.
1. Pityriasis rosea
Pityriasis rosea is an inflammatory skin condition that produces a red rash. Its exact cause is unknown, but researchers think it might come from a viral infection.
The rash is also called Christmas tree rash because it usually starts with a larger oval-shaped red patch that looks a little like a Christmas tree.
This larger patch appears first and can be found on the chest, back, or abdomen. It’s called the mother patch, and the smaller patches that form on other areas of the body are called the daughter patches.
Patches are oval-shaped, red, and sometimes scaly with a raised border that looks similar to ringworm. In addition to the itchy rash, pityriasis symptoms include:
- sore throat
- itching that gets worse when the skin gets warm, like during a shower or workout
Pityriasis rosea typically goes away on its own and doesn’t need treatment. But you may want to use home remedies to soothe the itch, like calamine lotion or an oatmeal bath.
Here’s how to make your own oatmeal bath.
2. Heat rash
Heat rash forms when the pores in your skin get clogged as you sweat. It can happen during exercise or when you’re in hot or humid weather.
If the sweat gets blocked from coming to the surface of your skin, small lumps that look like blisters can form. They might be red or filled with clear liquid. The bumps can feel itchy or painful.
Often, heat rash forms in areas where your skin rubs together, like your armpits, or where clothing rubs against the skin. In infants, it can form around the neck.
Heat rash usually goes away when your skin cools off. Uncomfortable symptoms can be treated with ointments and creams, including calamine lotion to soothe the itch and steroid creams for more serious cases.
3. Contact dermatitis
Skin can react when it comes into contact with something that’s either an allergen or an irritant. Contact dermatitis is a rash that happens after you touch a substance you’re allergic to or that is harsh on skin, like a strong cleaning product.
Whether or not you get contact dermatitis depends on what you’re allergic to or what you’re exposed to. For example, most people are allergic to poison ivy and will develop a rash after touching it.
Common symptoms of contact dermatitis can include:
- blisters that can ooze
- crusting or scaling on the skin
Treatment depends on what caused the reaction. You may be able to get relief from over-the-counter creams and antihistamines. If the reaction is severe, you might need to get a prescription from your doctor.
Shingles is a painful rash with blisters that develops on one side of the face or body. It’s caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV), which is the same virus that causes chickenpox. If you’ve had chickenpox before, the virus can become active years later and cause shingles.
Before the rash develops, you might feel itching or tingling in the area. It usually forms a line on the left or right side of the body with painful blisters that itch and scab over in about 7 to 10 days.
Since shingles is more common in older adults, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people age 50 and older get a vaccine to prevent symptoms.
Outbreaks of shingles are treated with antiviral medications to shorten the length of time the rash appears on the body. Pain medications and anti-itch creams can help relieve some of the discomfort.
5. Swimmer’s itch
Swimmer’s itch is a rash that comes from being in water that’s infested with a parasite. Snails get infected with the parasite and spread it in ponds, lakes, and oceans. When people swim in the water, the parasites can get on their skin.
For some people, these parasites can trigger a reaction. They cause burning and itching as well as small reddish pimples or blisters.
Swimmer’s itch normally goes away on its own in about a week and doesn’t typically require medical attention. In the meantime, anti-itch creams can help reduce symptoms.
Ringworm is a red, blotchy rash that has a raised border in a circular pattern around it. It’s caused by a fungus and can appear anywhere on the body. Athlete’s foot results from this fungus occurring on the feet. Jock itch is what happens when the fungus affects the groin.
This rash doesn’t go away unless the fungus is killed. Ringworm is also contagious, so you can spread it to others. Your doctor can diagnose ringworm and prescribe antifungal medications to treat it.
7. Atopic dermatitis
Atopic dermatitis is a common type of eczema. It often starts in babies and can either go away as the child gets older or flare up throughout the course of adult life.
Researchers aren’t sure what causes the skin condition. It might be genetic or it might be the immune system’s overreaction to something the body comes in contact with.
Atopic dermatitis can be itchy and painful. Skin becomes dry, red, and cracked. If it’s scratched too much, an infection can form, causing blisters that leak yellow liquid.
Treatment for atopic dermatitis involves managing flares and keeping skin moisturized. A doctor can tell you if you have atopic dermatitis and prescribe a medicated cream to reduce symptoms.
8. Lichen planus
Not a lot is known about lichen planus. Researchers aren’t sure what causes it.
It’s a condition that brings on raised, reddish purple bumps in different areas of the body. The most common areas to find these bumps are on the wrists, back, and ankles.
In areas where patches continue to reappear, the skin can get rough and scaly. These rough patches can also be itchy.
Lichen planus can’t be cured, so treatments focus on managing symptoms. Your doctor can provide a proper diagnosis and work to create a treatment plan that may include topical creams, light exposure therapy, and prescription medications.
Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that causes scaly, itchy patches to form on the skin of elbows, knees, scalp, or anywhere else on the body. Skin cells grow faster than normal in people with psoriasis, which is what creates the thick buildup. This can be very uncomfortable, causing itching and burning.
Researchers aren’t sure what exactly causes psoriasis. It’s likely a combination of genetics and environmental factors.
There are several types of psoriasis, and each can look slightly different. A doctor can diagnose your condition and help you create a treatment plan. Treatments can include creams and medications applied to the skin, light therapy, and injectable medications.
10. Drug rash
A drug rash happens when your body has an allergic reaction to a medication. This could be any type of medication, not just topical ones you apply to your skin.
Drug rashes can range from mild to severe. In severe cases, you may need emergency medical attention.
The rash can look different depending on the way a medication reacts with your body. For example, some medications are known to cause small, red bumps, while others may cause scaling and peeling or purple patches. It can also be itchy.
If you’ve recently started a new medication and noticed a rash a few days or a couple of weeks later, see your doctor. They can help you figure out the cause behind the reaction and prescribe steroids or antihistamines to reduce the symptoms.
The bottom line
There are many possible causes for red spots on the skin. Some are triggered by allergies, like contact dermatitis, while others are caused by bacteria, a virus, or an autoimmune condition.
If your symptoms are causing severe discomfort or don’t improve after trying an over-the-counter anti-itch cream or pain reliever, see your doctor. They can make a proper diagnosis and recommend a treatment based on the cause of your red spots. You can connect to a dermatologist in your area using the ishonest FindCare tool.