Causes and Treatment of Red Spots on Skin

" Many conditions can lead to the appearance of red spots on skin. These are usually hard to ignore because they may also appear with other accompanying symptoms. Different skin conditions have varying characteristics which may lead to their diagnosis, and the treatment of red spots on skin will depend on the underlying cause. Common causes include acne, allergy, herpes sores and Linchen Planus. These skin conditions are described below."  


Red spots are reddish discolorations in the skin which may look like bumps, flat marks, irregularly shaped lesions, or discrete dots.

Many factors can cause inflammation, which is the most likely reason for reddening of the skin. Inflammatory reactions often trigger an increase in blood flow to an area of the skin where an infection or irritation occurs. Common factors that can trigger redness and inflammation include:

  • Acne: appear as red spots on skin and bumps on the skin that may also be filled with pus. These usually occur in the face, neck, shoulders and back.
red skin spots acne
Red skin spots due to acne are caused by pores that are blocked by dead skin cells. Stress and a person’s genetics can make the problem worse. It can be treated and controlled.

  • Skin allergy: various allergic conditions like eczema, atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, and hives can manifest as irregularly shaped red rashes that may be flat or slightly raised, scaly, patchy, swollen or blistering. Allergic reaction to drugs, food, and other environmental elements can also appear as red rashes.

red skin
Atopic dermatitis can cause red skin spots on areas such as the elbows and feet.

  • Insect bites:  red spots may be found after an ant, mosquito, spider, tick, bed bug or other insect bites into the skin
  • Skin rash due to a viral, bacterial or fungal infection: viral infections like measles, chicken pox, shingles, bacterial infections like scarlet fever or fungal infections like ringworm lead to different forms of red spots.

    Herpes simplex (also called (HSV-1) is an example of a common skin infection caused by a virus. It causes cold sores or herpes on the mouth and genitals. It is possible to also see sores anywhere on the body. The virus is contagious, even when sores are not visible.  In infected individuals, an outbreak can be triggered by sunburn. Symptoms include tingling skin, fever, muscle ache, neck lymph nodes that are swollen, trouble with urination and eye infection (herpes keratitis). Outbreaks last on the face from 2 to 3 weeks. In genital areas the outbreak will last from 2 to 6 weeks.

    herpes virus on face
    A Herpes Virus Outbreak on the Face Can Cause Red Spots on Skin that are Highly Contagious and That Can Last from 2 to 3 Weeks
    Source: AAD

    Diagnosis by a Dermatologist can be confirmed by blood test or skin swab of a sore. Treatment includes use of an antiviral (Valacyclovir, Famciclovir, Acyclovir)  and topical to help with symptoms such as tingling or skin burning.  The virus does not cause complications in people with normal immune systems. If your immune system has been weakened by surgery, cancer or a transplanted organ than be sure to see a Doctor.
  • Acute inflammation due to rash, such as heat rash, diaper rash, or prickly heat is common among children.
  • Folliculitis, or infection of one or more hair follicles, can be seen as small red bumps on the skin
  • Chronic inflammatory skin conditions like psoriasis and rosacea
  • Disorders of the blood vessels beneath the skin can manifest as petechiae (small red dots) or patches of red skin (phlebitis)
  • Linchen Planus is a condition that occurs in middle age. While the cause is unknown, it is believed to be an autoimmune disease. The condition causes red or red/purple bumps on the skin that can occur anywhere on the body.  On the arm bumps are more red, while on the legs the bumps look dark. Symptoms include thick rough scaly skin, itch, blisters (rare) and pain if the red skin bumps are on the genitals. Linchen Planus can also occur inside the mouth (commonly found by dentists) and cheeks, on the nails and scalp.

    Treatment involves the use of antihistamines for itch, light therapy and retinoic acid to hep clear the skin. Excema topicals are also used such as Tacrolimus ointment or pimecrolimus cream. Cases usually disappear in 2 years. It can appear and then disappear over the years. Oral linchen planus takes longer to disappear and is more difficult to treat.

    red spots linchen planus on arm
    Linchen Planus causes shiny red spots on the arms and other areas of the body, with most on the ankles, lower back and wrists. The cause is unknown.
    Source: AAD

Other red spots on skin may not be due to inflammation but may just be due to harmless inborn conditions such as birthmarks or cherry angiomas.


The diagnosis of red spots on the skin may be done after a doctor takes a medical history and physical examination. Sometimes laboratory tests may be needed to establish a diagnosis or to rule out other conditions.


Some skin conditions manifesting as reddish skin discolorations have no accompanying symptoms such as birthmarks or cherry angiomas, except that these may be noted to grow in size in change in shape.Other skin conditions that are caused by inflammation may be accompanied by various symptoms like fever, itchiness, scaling, pus formation, oozing, blistering, pain, and discomfort.

If red spots appear with serious symptoms like difficulty in breathing and swallowing, these may indicate an acute allergic reaction which may need immediate medical attention.


Some conditions do not require treatment and will resolve on their own. However, most of these conditions, especially those which are accompanied by other symptoms of inflammation may need simple home remedies. Keeping the skin clean and healthy, and practicing a healthy lifestyle are important to skin health.

Some of these conditions are just manifestations of an underlying health condition which needs medical treatment, such as chicken pox. Most importantly, one should seek immediate treatment if red spots on skin are accompanied by symptoms of severe allergic reaction, because this may be life threatening.

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References for Red Spots on Skin:

Rodriguez, D. 5 Skin Symptoms and What They Could Mean. EverydayHealth.

American Academy of Dermatology

Mayo Clinic. Common skin rashes

Skin Rash


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