What Are Petechiae?

If you have tiny red, purple, or brown spots on your skin, they could be petechiae. They're not a disease, but a symptom. A number of things can cause them, from a severe coughing fit to an infection.

Often, petechiae are nothing to worry about. Still, it's always a good idea to check with your doctor if you're not sure where these spots came from. Some conditions that cause petechiae are very serious.

Petechiae are more common in kids. If your child has this rash, especially with a fever, take him or her to a pediatrician right away.

What Causes Petechiae?

Petechiae are a sign of blood leaking from capillaries under your skin. Capillaries are the tiniest blood vessels that connect arteries to veins. They help move oxygen and nutrients from your bloodstream to your organs and tissues. They also carry waste away from your organs and tissues.

Leaking in the capillaries could be due to an illness or a medicine you take. Petechiae may also form on your face, neck, or chest if you strain intensely or for a long time when you do things like:

  • Cough hard
  • Vomit
  • Give birth
  • Lift heavy weights

Many infections with bacteria, viruses, or fungi can cause these spots, too, including:

Blood and immune disorders can also cause petechiae, such as:

A lack of vitamin C (scurvy) or vitamin K in your diet can also lead to petechiae.

Reactions to certain medicines can cause these spots, too. Petechiae may be a side effect of drugs like:

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What Do They Look Like?

Petechiae are flat and look like pinpoint-sized red, brown, or purple dots. Clumps of them on your skin look like a rash. But unlike many rashes, when you press on the spots they don't turn white. And if the spots are larger and red or purple, you may have another type of bleeding problem called purpura.

Petechiae can form just about anywhere on your body, even your eyelids or inside your mouth.

When Your Child Has Petechiae

Petechiae with a fever in children can be a sign of a serious infection like meningococcal disease. Have a doctor check these symptoms right away.

The doctor will examine your child, look at the rash, and ask about her symptoms and recent illnesses. Blood and urine tests may help pinpoint the cause of the spots.

How Do Doctors Treat Petechiae?

The rash itself doesn't need treatment. If your petechiae are caused by a virus, they should clear up as soon as the infection goes away.

If you have a bacterial infection, you may need to take antibiotics. Make sure you take the full dose of medicine, even if you start to feel better.

More serious diseases such as meningococcal infections, blood disorders, or cancer may need treatment in a hospital. Your doctor may suggest you see a specialist in infections, blood diseases (hematologist), or cancer (oncologist) to oversee your care.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on July 31, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

DermNet NZ: "Cutaneous adverse effects of anticonvulsant drugs."

Government of Western Australia Child and Adolescent Health Service: "Petechiae."

Mayo Clinic: "Petechiae."

National Center for Biotechnology Information: "Petechiae."

Pediatric Annals: "Petechiae and Purpura: The Ominous and the Not-So-Obvious?"

The Franklin Institute: "Blood Vessels."

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