A macule is a flat, distinct, discolored area of skin less than 1 cm wide that does not involve any change in the thickness or texture of the skin.
A macule occurs without the presence of physical trauma. It is a symptom of medical conditions such as vitiligo (a skin condition characterized by white patches on the skin) and rosacea (an inflammatory skin condition that includes red macules).
Areas of discoloration that are larger than 1 cm are referred to as patches. Macules affect people of all ages and are most commonly seen in babies, young children, and older adults.
Macules can appear on any part of the body, but they are most commonly seen on the back, chest, arms, and face. A macule may be hypopigmented (lighter than the skin) or hyperpigmented (darker than the skin). A birthmark may be considered a macule if it is small. Larger birthmarks are considered to be patches.
A rash may be referred to as a macule if the color of the rash is different from the color of the skin on the body. This form of macule is caused by infection or disease. Hyperpigmented macules (darker than the skin) may be referred to as café au lait spots.
Call your doctor if the areas of macules contain lesions or if they become inflamed or itchy. This may be a sign of infection.
Macules can be caused by many different conditions that affect the appearance of the skin. These changes cause areas of discoloration to appear on the skin. Conditions that are likely to cause macules are:
- skin cancer
- ultraviolet light exposure (age spots)
Once the cause of the macules is diagnosed, you’ll be given treatment for the condition. Although the macules may not go away, treating the condition that’s causing them to appear may help prevent further growth of the macules you have or the formation of new macules.
Macules caused by vitiligo are difficult to treat. Treatment works best early on in the disease. Treatment options for macules caused by vitiligo include light therapy, immunosuppressive medications, and skin grafts.
In most cases, a sufficient treatment would be to use special makeup to cover the patches of vitiligo. This makeup is available for purchase at specialty drug stores and department stores. De-pigmenting the surrounding skin may be a treatment option because the patches of vitiligo lack pigment. This would essentially change your entire skin color to match the patches of vitiligo. This treatment option is given as a last resort.
Birthmark macules usually do not pose a problem and have no definitive treatment options.
Most causes of macules are harmless and only cause a distortion to the skin’s appearance. However, people with several macules may develop mental distress because of their altered appearance.
Symptoms of mental distress include:
- social anxiety
These conditions may be treated with therapy. However, if therapy doesn’t work, you may be given antidepressant medications to relieve the symptoms.
Macules caused by advanced skin cancer or untreated skin cancer may cause permanent discoloration of the skin in the affected area. They may also lead to the spread of cancer to other areas of the body.