Red Spots

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What are red spots?

Red spots can be caused by a variety of conditions, including infections, allergic reactions, and inflammatory processes. Red spots can appear anywhere on the body.

Red spots can be harmless or benign, or they may be a sign of a serious disease such as leukemia. They can appear suddenly or develop over a longer period of time, depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Red spots may be tiny to large in size and cover a small to sizable area of the body. Red spots can be itchy or painful, flat or raised, and vary in color from pink to bright red to a purplish red color.

Tiny pinpoint red dots called petechiae are due to broken blood vessels just underneath the skin and may indicate a life-threatening condition, such as meningitis. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have red spots accompanied by a stiff neck, change in alertness, high fever, difficulty breathing, bloody stools, or swelling of the face or tongue.

Seek prompt medical care if the red spots are persistent or you are concerned about your symptoms.

What other symptoms might occur with red spots?

Red spots may be accompanied by other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. For example, you may have a fever if the red spots are caused by an infectious or inflammatory process, such as measles or rubella.

Skin symptoms that may occur along with red spots

Red spots may occur with other skin-related symptoms including:

  • Blistering and oozing of discharge that crusts over and dries

  • Irritation

  • Itching

  • Pain

  • Pustules

  • Rash

  • Scaling

  • Swelling

Other symptoms that may occur along with red spots

Red spots may occur with symptoms related to other body systems including:

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

In some cases, red spots may occur with other symptoms that might indicate a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (c all 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these symptoms:

What causes red spots?

Many different diseases, disorders and conditions can cause red spots. For example, red spots can be a symptom of inflammation in the body, or they may be caused by an infection or insect bites. More serious causes include meningitis and leukemia.

Infectious causes of red spots

Red spots may be caused by an infection including:

  • Fungal infection

  • Meningitis (infection or inflammation of the sac around the brain and spinal cord)

  • Roseola (herpes virus infection in babies)

  • Strep infection, such as a group A Streptococcus infection that causes strep throat

  • Viral diseases, such as measles, rubella and chickenpox

Parasite or insect causes of red spots

Red spots can be caused by insects that leave red bite marks or burrow under the skin including:

  • Bedbugs

  • Fleas

  • Lice

  • Mosquitoes

  • Scabies (caused by mites)

  • Ticks

Allergic causes of red spots

Drug, animal, food and other environmental allergens can lead to red spots or rash. Allergens and allergic conditions that can cause red spots include:

  • Allergic contact dermatitis, such as an allergy to latex or an insect bite

  • Allergic purpura

  • Animal allergy

  • Drug reaction

  • Eczema (atopic dermatitis)

  • Food allergies

  • Irritant contact dermatitis, such as diaper rash

  • Poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac

Autoimmune causes of red spots

Inflammatory and autoimmune causes of red spots include:

  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (disorder in which the body attacks its own healthy cells and tissues)

  • Vasculitis (inflammation of blood vessels)

Other causes of red spots

Various other causes of red spots include:

  • Broken blood vessels

  • Choking or strangulation, which can cause red spots on the neck and face

  • Erythema multiforme (type of allergic reaction)

  • Erythema nodosum (inflammatory disorder)

  • Heat or sun overexposure or heat rash

  • Kaposi sarcoma (seen in HIV/AIDS)

  • Medications that thin the blood or decrease clotting, such as aspirin and Coumadin

  • Sarcoidosis (disease of skin and multiple organ systems)

  • Severe vomiting or coughing may cause red spots on the face and neck

Life-threatening causes of red spots

In some cases, red spots may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These include:

What are the potential complications of red spots?

The complications of underlying causes of red spots vary depending on the disease, disorder and condition. For example, red spots caused by a strep infection can lead to a body-wide blood infection (sepsis) or rheumatic fever. You can best reduce the risk of complications of red spots and the underlying causes by following the treatment plan you and your health care provider develop specifically for you. Complications may include:

  • Bacterial pneumonia and other secondary bacterial infections

  • Coma

  • Encephalitis

  • Hemorrhage (severe uncontrolled bleeding)

  • Organ failure

  • Pregnancy complications, such as premature birth, miscarriage, newborn infections, and birth defects

  • Respiratory arrest

  • Rheumatic fever

  • Seizures

  • Sepsis (bacterial blood infection)

  • Spread of cancer

  • Shock

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 7
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Skin Rashes and Other Changes. FamilyDoctor.org. http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/tools/symptom/545.html.
  2. Haimovic A, Sanchez M, Judson MA, Prystowsky S. Sarcoidosis: a comprehensive review and update for the dermatologist: part I. Cutaneous disease. J Am Acad Dermatol 2012; 66:699.e1.