Red Spots on the Skin: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Red spots on the skin can be caused by multiple pathologies. Viruses, bacteria, fungi, autoimmune problems, genetic predisposition and even cancer can damage the epidermal structure of the patient.
Red Spots on the Skin: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment
Samuel Antonio Sánchez Amador

Written and verified by el biólogo Samuel Antonio Sánchez Amador in 20 March, 2021.

Last update: 20 March, 2021

The skin is the largest organ in the body, occupying a total area of about 2 square meters (6.5 square feet) and weighing about 5 kilograms (11 pounds). Due to its contact with the outside world, it’s normal for it to undergo changes based on the environmental conditions the person is exposed to. For this reason, red spots can sometimes appear on the skin, along with other types of reactions.

Biological barriers are the set of mechanisms that allow living beings to recognize foreign substances, neutralize them, and eliminate them when they’re introduced into some part of their system. The skin is the first of them and, for this reason, it’s quite normal for it to suffer irregularities such as wounds, rashes, and spots.

When we see a spot or mole that wasn’t previously on our skin, we often think the worst. The dreaded word melanoma comes to our mind. However, nothing could be further from the truth, as the vast majority of rashes, abscesses, and spots occur due to much less serious etiological agents.

What can cause red spots to appear on the skin?

There’s no such thing as a universal treatment for red spots on the skin, as an allergy has nothing to do with a fungal infection, for example. These rashes are clinical signs, not a disease in itself, and so to deal with them you have to find the specific causative agent and treat it.

Therefore, we’re going to break down the characteristics, symptoms, and action of red spots on the skin based on their etiology – the pathology that is causing them. Keep reading to find out more!

1. Allergies

Red spots on the skin include allergies.
Skin allergies are common, but their intensity can vary greatly depending on the person.

As indicated by the Top Doctors portal, skin allergies are immune reactions produced by the presence of, or contact with, certain substances. These lead to localized swelling and hives. With allergies, the immune system acts as it should. The problem isn’t the type or intensity of the response, but, rather, the objective.

Allergic diseases are increasingly a serious public health problem worldwide. It’s estimated that a large proportion of Earth’s inhabitants react to one or more allergens at an immune level, which causes skin allergies to also increase as time goes by.

The spots on the skin caused by an allergy are usually welts, that is, they’re lumpy, red or whitish and may be filled with fluid. These appear quickly after contact with allergens, and so it’s easy to establish a causality between the item touched and the allergic response.

The treatment is simple: the application of antihistamines in the form of ointment to reduce the discomfort of the symptoms is enough to eliminate these skin reactions. In any case, the patient is always recommended to undergo allergy tests.

2. Dermatophytosis

Dermatophytoses or ringworms are a group of infections caused by fungi that affect the skin, nails, and hair. The fungi that cause them are keratin parasites and are known as dermatophytes. Heat, humidity, lack of exposure to the sun and poor hygiene greatly favor their appearance.

In general, the red spots on the skin caused by dermatophytosis are large and appear in a limited, patch-like form. There may also be flaking of the skin and hair loss in the affected area. After all, the fungus is spreading in the epidermis area of the infected host.

As indicated by the Elsevier scientific portal, most treatments focus on the application of antifungal ointments to the affected area. If the infection isn’t very extensive, topical creams are always the first option, as they also have minimal adverse effects.

On the other hand, if the infection has spread to several areas of the body – or if the causative agent is resistant to certain drugs – then it’s time to change strategy. In these cases, the administration of systemic antifungals for long periods of time may be necessary.

3. Eczema: one of the most common types of red spots

The word eczema refers to a series of swellings on the skin, with different causes and prognosis, as indicated by the United States National Library of Medicine. Most types of eczema cause dry skin, itching, and a rash in the form of reddish spots on the face, inside of the elbows, knees, hands, and feet.

Eczema isn’t contagious and its causes are not known, although experts suspect that the probability of developing it depends on genetics and family history. The appearance of these rashes can get better or worse over time, but it’s usually a chronic and lifelong condition.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the most common type of eczema is atopic dermatitis. The genes that provide the code for skin protection can be atypical, causing the skin not to carry out its function at all. Because of that, it gets irritated and damaged by various environmental factors and allergens, giving rise to the red spots on the skin that concern us here.

The treatment of eczema is multidisciplinary, because, as we have said, knowing the exact causes that cause it is a complex task. Certain drugs, topical creams, phototherapies, and psychological counseling can help the patient to cope with the symptoms in their most difficult times.

4. Measles

Red spots on the skin are common in children.
Measles is an example of a vaccine-preventable disease.

Measles is an exanthematic viral disease caused by the measles virus, of the genus Morbillivirus. According to the Association of Foreign Health Physicians (AMSE) this infection is always clinical, that is, there are no asymptomatic patients.

The first symptoms after infection are typical of a cold, that is, coughing, sneezing and a progressive rise in body temperature. At 3-4 days, the typical reddish spots on the skin appear, small in size, slightly raised, and causing a lot of itching.

According to the cited AMSE source, before widespread vaccination worldwide, 95% of the population before the age of 15 had suffered from the disease.

Measles was a typical disease in children, but now, thanks to vaccines at an early age, the incidence of the virus has been reduced by 79%. The best treatment in this case is, therefore, prevention.

5. Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a disease that causes itchy, red, scaly patches, especially on the knees, elbows, trunk, and scalp. Although the causes of the condition are not fully understood, it’s believed to be an immune problem, which causes the skin to regenerate more slowly than normal.

There are many types of psoriasis, but the clear symptom is the appearance of red plaques covered with whitish scales of variable thickness, as indicated by the Cinfa Salud portal.

The patient’s response to psoriasis treatment is unpredictable and, therefore, dealing with these red spots on the skin requires patience and trial and error. Only in the minority of occasions is psoriasis permanently cured, as it usually occurs recurrently throughout the individual’s life.

Topical treatment, phototherapy, and combination therapies usually report good results.

6. Lupus erythematosus

As indicated by the Navarra University Clinic (CUN), lupus is a chronic disease in which the patient’s immune system attacks different organs and tissues, causing redness and inflammation. Here, we’ll look at the cases where it affects the skin, manifesting itself in the form of very obvious red spots.

The best-known lupus of all is the one that affects the skin, as 90% of patients with this disorder suffer from it. This manifests as reddish, flat or raised epidermal spots, which can appear anywhere on the body. The causes of this are unknown, but it’s believed that it may be the product of genetic and hormonal failures.

The treatment of lupus erythematosus is similar to that of other conditions already explored: anti-inflammatories, corticosteroids, antimalarials, and immunosuppressants. The most widely-used immunosuppressants are azathioprine and cyclophosphamide, but these are reserved for severe cases where there’s damage to multiple organs.

7. Skin cancer

As its name suggests, skin cancer refers to the proliferation of cancer cells in one of the dermal layers. In general, the risk of developing melanoma skin cancer is very low, not exceeding 2.6% in Caucasians and falling to 0.6% in Hispanics. Because of that, we’ve placed it last on our list.

However, melanoma isn’t the only type of cancer that can appear on the skin. Basal cell, squamous cell, and Merkel cell carcinoma are other examples of skin neoplasia. Here are the most common symptoms of some of them:

  1. A large, brownish area that is irregularly shaped.
  2. A mole that changes in size or feel. This is the type of sign that could fall into the category of “red spots on the skin.” The mole in question may start to bleed.
  3. A small lesion with a ragged edge and parts that appear red, pink, white, blue, or purple.
  4. A painful sore that itches or burns.
  5. Dark lesions in different parts of the body.

All these signs can show skin cancer, but, as you can imagine, they can also be due to any of the other clinical entities we’ve already mentioned. Before worrying about it too much, we recommend that you go and see a dermatologist and wait for a clear diagnosis. In very few cases is a red spot on the skin due to cancer.

A symptom caused by multiple diseases

As you may have seen, there are many factors that can cause red spots to appear on the skin. This organ is the first biological barrier that protects us against pathogens and, as such, we sometimes subject it to inclement weather and possible harmful pathogens.

If red spots appear on your skin suddenly and also cause itching, it’s most likely that we’re dealing with a mild allergic reaction, a dermatitis rash, or a fungal infection.

Be that as it may, it’s always advisable to go to the dermatologist, as all these problems can be treated effectively to end the root problem or, at the very least, reduce its symptoms.