What causes red spots on skin?

Red spots on the skin can affect both men and women for a large range of reasons. The MediFind Medical Team has summarized 10 potential causes for red spots on the skin below in order from most to least likely based on our data. Learn more about how MediFind works here. You can also enter your symptoms into MediFind’s Symptom Checker to receive more customized results.

Lyme Disease

When bitten by a blacklegged tick, also called a deer tick, patients may become infected by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, which causes Lyme disease. Susceptibility to the disease varies from person to person with some of the most susceptible developing a chronic infection that progresses into antibiotic-refractory Lyme arthritis. Most patients will experience normal bacterial outcomes such as fever, headache, and fatigue but the characteristic syndrome is a red skin rash called erythema migraines. All untreated Lyme disease infections spread to the joints, leading to arthritis, but some may infect the heart and nervous system. An infectious disease doctor will prescribe antibiotics but symptomatic relief may also be required for cases of joint pain. Find an infectious disease doctor near you here.

Herpes Zoster

A viral infection by the varicella zoster virus develops into chickenpox in children, which is a common condition that presents as itchy, red spots on the skin. Most children fight off the infection just fine but never truly eliminate the virus, which has now hidden inside nerve cells. As adults, this virus can reactivate and cause shingles, presenting as the same itchy, red spots on the skin but paired with a host of other symptoms. An infectious disease doctor will prescribe antiviral medicine to shorten how long the symptoms last but may also recommend nonsteroidal creams to reduce inflammation. Find an infectious disease doctor near you here.

Adult Still Disease

When children develop arthritis, it is distinct from normal arthritis found in the elderly and called juvenile idiopathic arthritis. Should that rare form of arthritis occur in adults, it is called Adult Still disease. It presents with high fevers, red spots on the skin, and joint pain and can develop into chronic arthritis. There is no known cause for it and no risk factors have been identified for it but it is extremely rare and tends to affect women more than men. A rheumatologist will prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to target the symptoms of arthritis. Steroidal prednisone may be used for the most severe cases. Chronic arthritis is treated with immunosuppressors like methotrexate. Find a rheumatologist near you here.


The meninges is a membrane that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. If bacteria can reach it, which is already a dangerous outcome, then they cause meningitis. Meningitis refers to an infection of the meninges that causes its inflammation leading to severe headache, sensitivity to light, fever, upset stomach, and fatigue. The bacteria that can cause meningitis may also present their own infectious symptoms such as an itchy, red rash on the skin. Meningitis can also occur due to chemical irritation, drug allergies, fungal infections, viral infections, parasitic infections, and cancer. A neurologist will prescribe antibiotic, antiviral, antifungal, or antiparasitic medicine based on the source of the infection, they will then focus on decreasing brain swelling. Find a neurologist near you here.


Also called mono, mononucleosis is caused by a virus that results in fever, sore throat, and swollen lymph nodes. Should a doctor prescribe antibiotics to treat the possible bacterial infection, it will backfire and result in red spots on the skin. For this reason, many doctors first perform tests to rule out mononucleosis. Most patients recover on their own within 4 weeks of the initial infection. However, in some cases, the infection may persist for another 2 or 3 months. An infectious disease doctor will prescribe steroidal medicine like prednisone for severe symptoms and pain. They will likely forgo antiviral medicine as it has little benefit. Find an infectious disease doctor near you here.

Contact Dermatitis

Itchy, red skin as a rash can occur for any number of reasons. The catchall term for when the skin becomes this way is called contact dermatitis. It specifically refers an adverse reaction to some kind of substance contacting the skin. That substance can be an irritant like cement, hair dyes, wet diapers, pesticides, rubber gloves, or particular shampoos. It can also be an allergic reaction where the substance causes the dermatitis because of a sensitive allergic immune response. A dermatologist will likely recommend lifestyle changes to avoid contact with the particular substance but may also prescribe topical corticosteroids for severe reactions. Find a dermatologist near you here.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

A bacterial infection by the bacterium Rickettsia rickettsia, which transmits its toxin via a tick in the Rocky Mountains, can result in itchy, red skin that pairs alongside a strong fever. It may also include a headache, muscle pain, chills, or confusion. This infection is particularly effective in children due to their weakened immune system and seasonally affects in the spring and summer. An infectious disease doctor will prescribe antibiotics but may also recommend anti-itch creams and moisturizers. Find an infectious disease doctor near you here.


Considered one of the most contagious viral infections, measles can infect 90% of people with whom it comes in contact. It does so via sneezing and coughing, spreading through droplets in the air. Most people are protected from measles due to early childhood vaccinations. In fact, measles has been eliminated from the United States since 2000. However, travelers carrying the disease can still transmit it and infect the unvaccinated. Patients with measles have a red skin rash that appears up to 20 days after the first exposure. They may also experience cough, fever, muscle pain, sore throat, and white spots inside the mouth. An infectious disease doctor will focus on treating the symptoms but generally recommend bed rest and quarantine. Find an infectious disease doctor here.

Scarlet Fever

The bacterium streptococcus appears as multiple different groups. Most are harmless but some, like Group A, result in infection. The infection response it causes varies widely as this group refers to many different strains. In one such infection, it can cause scarlet fever, which results in red spots on the skin. Scarlet fever is characterized by its skin rash but also results in a red, sore throat paired with very high fever. An infectious disease doctor will first have to identify the strain of streptococcus but will generally prescribe an antibiotic along with medicines to reduce the fever and rash. Find an infectious disease doctor near you here.

Steven-Johnson Syndrome

As a reaction to medication, some patients may experience a severe skin reaction called Steven-Johnson syndrome. It exists in a spectrum of severity where Steven-Johnson syndrome is the least severe form but can worsen into toxic epidermal necrolysis. The skin reaction may present as red spots on the skin or a general rash. Since it is caused by medication, a dermatologist will likely seek to end dependence on that particular drug but some time may be spent isolating the exact cause. Find a dermatologist near you here.

Understanding the Results

These results are based on the most likely conditions for a 20 to 40 year-old patient that is living in the United States. Our data shows that 96% of the time, this symptom is related to one of the 10 most likely causes. Location and age can also contribute to different results. Use our Symptom Checker to add your information and get your custom results.

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Differences in Age Groups

Since many of the diseases that cause red spots on the skin are infectious, children and the elderly are much more susceptible due to their weakened immune system. Adults that hike often or spend time outdoors may also be more susceptible to tick-born sources.

Differences among Men and Women

The listed diseases do not seem to favor men or women except for Adult Still disease, which appears to affect women more than men. The other infectious diseases are universal among the genders and can happen to anyone.

Last Updated: December 08, 2022

Published By: MediFind Medical Staff