Petechiae are small purple, red, or brown spots on the skin. They usually appear on the arms, legs, stomach, and buttocks. A person might also find them inside their mouth or on eyelids. These pinpoint spots can be a sign of many different conditions. They can also appear as a reaction to certain medications. Though petechiae look like a rash, they’re actually caused by bleeding under the skin.
What do petechiae look like?
Petechiae look like a rash, which can be alarming. The spots are tiny pinpricks that can be purple, red, or brown, which is due to the bleeding under the skin. They are usually flat to the touch and, unlike a rash, will not lose color when pressed — this is a useful way to tell whether any skin abnormality is a rash or not.
Tiny blood vessels link the smallest parts of your arteries to the smallest parts of your veins. Petechiae appear when capillaries bleed, leaking blood into the skin. A number of things can cause this bleeding, including:
- Prolonged straining
- Some medical conditions
- Specific types of injuries
- Injuries and sunburn
Tiny petechiae of the face, neck and chest can be caused by prolonged straining during activities such as:
What are the symptoms?
Other symptoms may include nosebleeds and bleeding gums. The appearance of the spots is the only indication of petechiae. However, because it is often an indication of an underlying condition, a person may experience other symptoms alongside this.
Other symptoms include:
- a collection of clotted blood that appears under the skin
- bleeding or bruising easily
- bleeding gums
- unusually heavy menstrual periods
If a bacterial or viral infection caused the petechiae, your skin should clear up once the infection gets better. If a medication caused the petechiae, this symptom should go away once you stop taking the drug that caused it. Also, you should check the spots often to see if they change. If the number of spots increases, you might have a bleeding disorder. Before recommending a treatment, your doctor will identify what’s causing your petechiae and other symptoms. Your doctor may prescribe any of these medicines to treat the cause of the spots:
- antibiotics to treat a bacterial infection
- corticosteroids to bring down inflammation
- chemotherapy, biologic therapy, or radiation to treat cancer
When to see a doctor
See your doctor immediately if you or your child develops widespread petechiae. It's important to determine the cause, since some underlying problems can be potentially serious.
How to prevent petechiae
To prevent petechiae, you need to avoid the conditions that can cause them. But you can’t prevent all of the possible underlying causes of petechiae. If you’ve had this reaction to a drug in the past, let your doctor know. Your doctor will probably recommend that you avoid the drug in the future.
To prevent infections that can cause petechiae:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water.
- Try to stay away from anyone who appears to be sick.
- Don’t share glasses, utensils, and other personal items.
- Practice safe sex.
Since petechiae are usually the result of another condition, the only way to prevent them occurring is to try to avoid the conditions that cause them. Trying to stay fit and healthy, avoiding infections, practicing good hygiene, and avoiding medication that causes petechiae are good ways to reduce the chances of developing them.