It’s not likely that you panic when you spot red bumps on your legs. In most instances, you shouldn’t. But red bumps can be itchy and annoying. Occasionally, red bumps on your legs are the sign of a more serious condition.
If you’re wondering about red bumps on your legs, consider some of the most common culprits.
|If the red bumps…||Then it might be|
|do not itch or itch very little||keratosis pilaris|
|go away without treatment||folliculitis or hives|
|blister and ooze a clear fluid||eczema|
|turn white when you press them||hives|
|itch a lot||insect bites or eczema|
|have a scaly quality||eczema or psoriasis|
|are accompanied by night sweats and weight loss||vasculitis|
|are shiny and resemble open sores||skin cancer|
Do you have small red or white bumps that resemble goosebumps on the fleshier areas of your thighs and arms? If they don't itch or they itch very little, they may well be keratosis pilaris. This is a common condition, affecting approximately 50 to 80 percent of adolescents, and 40 percent of adults, according to the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.
Keratosis pilaris occurs when your pores are clogged with the protein keratin. Keratin is found in your skin, nails, and hair. You’re more likely to get keratosis pilaris if you have dry skin or eczema.
How it’s treated: Although the condition is harmless, you may want to talk to your doctor about using treatments such as medicated creams. There are several types of over-the-counter (OTC) medicated creams that are designed to help loosen and remove dead skin cells.
Look for products that contain ingredients such as:
Medicated creams may be especially beneficial when used with thick moisturizing creams. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for this condition, but keeping your skin hydrated and moisturized should help.
In severe cases, laser therapy may be used.
Shop for OTC treatments: Shop for keratosis pilaris treatments.
Folliculitis is typically caused by an infection in the hair follicles of the scalp or on areas of the body that have been shaved. It’s mostly caused by staph bacteria (Staphylococcus aureus). Folliculitis can also be caused by inflammation from ingrown hairs, viruses, or fungi.
It results in small red bumps or pimples on the skin, which you may know as razor burn or razor rash. Shaving, tight clothing, and the combination of heat and sweat are typical sources of folliculitis. Folliculitis can affect people of all ages, but there are certain factors which may increase your risk. You may be at higher risk of this condition if you:
- have a condition that negatively affects your immune system, such as chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), diabetes, HIV, or AIDS
- have acne, especially if you’ve taken antibiotics for acne long-term
- have eczema
- have skin that’s been damaged from hair removal techniques, such as shaving against the grain or waxing
- have curly facial hair, or hair that’s prone to becoming ingrown
- wear tight clothing, or clothing made of materials which trap in heat
- frequent hot tubs which aren’t well-maintained or sanitary
How it’s treated: Folliculitis usually clears up on its own. If it lasts longer than 10 days or it worsens, you should see your doctor. Antibiotics in the form of pills or creams are typically used to treat persistent or severe folliculitis.
If the red spots combine in patches and itch like crazy, you may have eczema. Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is a common skin condition. Eczema may be dry and scaly, or it can blister and ooze a clear fluid. Eczema tends to flare up at times. Common triggers include:
- soaps and detergents
- cleaning products
- animal fur or dander
- sweat and heat
- cold, dry conditions
The cause of eczema is not fully understood, but there are some common patterns:
- Eczema often runs in families.
- You have a greater likelihood of getting eczema if you or a family member has asthma or seasonal allergies.
- Eczema is more common in urban areas with high levels of pollution and in colder climates.
- Children born to older mothers are more likely to have the condition.
Although people of all ages can have eczema, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that 85 percent of cases begin in children under the age of five. Another study found that 50 percent of people who had eczema as a child continue to have some signs of the condition in adulthood.
Like most skin conditions, eczema can become infected. Additionally, if you have eczema, avoid being around people who have cold sores or chicken pox. Exposure to the viruses that cause these conditions puts you at risk of getting eczema herpeticum, a severe, rapidly spreading infection.
How it’s treated: A number of medications are used to treat eczema, including antibiotics, antihistamines, and corticosteroids. Your doctor will help you find the medications that are most effective for you.
Regular use of non-medicated moisturizing creams and ointments are also usually recommended for treatment and prevention of eczema flares. Your doctor also will work with you to identify eczema triggers and reduce your exposure to them.
Approximately 20 percent of people will get hives in their lifetime, says the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI). Hives, also called urticaria, are raised, itchy, red or skin-tone welts. They turn white when you press their center. Hives can appear anywhere on the body, and people of all ages get them.
You can get hives in response to a wide range of triggers, such as:
Hives are also associated with certain conditions, including:
- colds or other viral infections
- sinusitis, strep throat, or other bacterial infections
- autoimmune diseases
Hives are generally not serious unless accompanied by a more systemic allergic reaction. Seek urgent medical attention if you have the following symptoms:
- trouble breathing or swallowing
- abdominal pain or vomiting
- swelling of your face or tongue
How it’s treated: Hives often go away without treatment, except in cases of an allergic reaction. Antihistamines are the most commonly used medication for treatment of hives.
You may use both OTC and prescription antihistamines for hives caused by an allergic reaction. For initial treatment, you’ll likely be recommended a non-sedating antihistamine. Examples include loratadine (Claritin), cetirizine (Zyrtec), and fexofenadine (Allegra).
If those medications don’t get rid of the hives, you’ll also add a sedating antihistamine at night. Examples include diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and the prescription medication hydroxyzine (Atarax).
In some cases, oral steroids may be prescribed. Injections of the steroid betamethasone (Celustone) might also be needed to treat hives.
Your little red bumps may be bug bites — especially if they itch like the devil. Common culprits in the insect kingdom include:
How it’s treated: Treatment includes a variety of antihistamines, cold compresses, and pain medication.
Shop for OTC treatments: Shop for antihistamines.
Shop for cold compresses.
Mosquito bites can be hard to the touch. They can occur as solo bumps, or you may see several in a cluster. They may or may not turn red.
If your bites fill with pus, you should have them checked by a doctor.
How it’s treated: Hydrocortisone creams and antihistamines are usually enough to reduce the itch.
Chigger bites result in small, red, itchy bumps, each with a bright red dot in the center. They can cause intense itching.
How it’s treated: Itching may be reduced with hydrocortisone creams.
Shop for OTC treatments: Shop for hydrocortisone creams.
How it’s treated: Reducing the lice infestation by combing out the eggs, and using topical creams designed for this purpose, will help to eliminate the bumps.
Bed bug bites can look like red lines made up of dots, which may be flat or raised.
How it’s treated: The itching can be reduced with hydrocortisone creams and antihistamines.
Scabies leads to raised, red bumps which may appear along wavy lines. The wavy lines are made by the burrowing insects.
How it’s treated: Treatment requires a scabicide cream such as permethrin (Eilimite). It kills scabies mites and their eggs.
Shop for OTC treatments: Shop for scabies creams.
The itching caused by most bug bites may be helped by:
- oral or topical corticosteroids
- a variety of OTC or prescription antihistamines, which may be taken orally or applied topically
- ice or cool compresses
- an application of calamine lotion
Remember that prevention, in the form of insect repellents and keeping your skin covered, is the most important step in keeping bloodthirsty critters away.
Psoriasis is a chronic condition that causes red, scaly patches to appear on the skin. One form of psoriasis, guttate psoriasis, is characterized by small reddish or pinkish spots that may also have a scaly quality. Spots are likely to occur on the trunk and limbs. Guttate psoriasis is the second most common type of psoriasis, following plaque psoriasis. It may cause hundreds of spots to occur at one time.
Triggers or risk factors for guttate psoriasis include:
- strep throat or other strep infections
- upper respiratory infection
- skin injury
- medications, such as beta-blockers or antimalarial drugs
- high levels of stress
How it’s treated: Topical ointments, such as corticosteroids, can be effective at reducing outbreaks. If the bumps are very widespread, they may also be cumbersome to apply. Phototherapy treatments may also be used. These treatments may involve ultraviolet light or a combination of ultraviolet light and a light-sensitizing medication such as psoralen.
Shop for OTC treatments: Shop for psoriasis treatments.
There are several different types of skin cancer which may appear like red bumps on the skin. These include basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and Bowen’s disease. Skin cancer is typically caused by unprotected, chronic exposure to the sun.
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC)
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common form of skin cancer. Basal cell carcinomas are abnormal growths which form in the skin’s basal cell layer. They often appear as one small and shiny red bump, and they can look like an open sore.
How it’s treated: BCCs must be removed surgically.
Bowen’s disease is an early form of skin cancer. It appears on the surface of the skin and is also referred to as squamous cell carcinoma in situ. It resembles a reddish, scaly patch, which may ooze, crust over, or itch. In addition to sun exposure, Bowen’s disease may be caused by exposure to arsenic or human papilloma virus 16 (HPV 16). HPV 16 is the wart virus associated with cervical cancer.
How it’s treated: Patches caused by Bowen’s disease must also be removed surgically.
Vasculitis is a condition which causes inflammation of the blood vessels. This decrease in the flow of blood results on a wide range of symptoms, including:
There are many types of vasculitis, most of which are rare. Some of them have red skin bumps as a symptom, including:
Hypersensitivity vasculitis is also known as allergic vasculitis. It’s marked by red spots on the skin, which often appear on the lower legs. An outbreak may be triggered by infection or adverse reaction to medications such as antibiotics, anti-seizure drugs, and gout medications.
How it’s treated: In most cases, no treatment is required. Some people may be prescribed anti-inflammatory medications or corticosteroids to help with joint pain.
Kawasaki disease, or mucocutaneous lymph node syndrome, is most often seen in children under five years of age. Symptoms include skin rash, swollen tongue, red eyes, and fever. Its cause is unknown.
How it’s treated: This condition can become dangerous if not caught and treated early. Treatment usually consists of intravenous immunoglobulin.
If you have an outbreak of red bumps on your legs, you’ll want to eliminate their itch as well as their physical presence. There are a number of at-home remedies you can try, including:
- Aloe vera gel. You can purchase aloe vera gel commercially or cut open the plant and use the sticky substance inside its leaves.
- Apple cider vinegar and white vinegar. When applied topically, either type of vinegar can help to soothe itchy skin.
- Calamine lotion. Calamine lotion can be applied topically on red bumps.
- Witch hazel. Simply pour witch hazel on the affected area.
- Oatmeal. Oatmeal contains chemicals called avenanthramides that reduce itching and inflammation. They also block the action of histamines — the chemicals in your body that cause allergic reactions. Try oatmeal compresses, ointments, or bath treatments. Treatments that use colloidal oatmeal are soothing for irritated or itchy skin.
Shop for OTC treatments: Shop for aloe vera gels.
Normally, the presence of little red bumps on your legs isn’t a matter of concern. But skin conditions carry the risk of becoming more serious infections. Treat your rash as recommended by your doctor and keep an eye out for signs of infection, such as:
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