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:

  • Leukemia

  • Meningitis

  • Severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis)

  • Thrombocytopenia

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


  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.

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 condi... Read more about red spotsintroduction


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:
Read more about red spotssymptoms

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Sep 6, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

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