What Causes Papule?

Conditions list medically reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA

A papule is an area of abnormal skin tissue that is less than 1 centimeter around. A papule has distinct borders, and it can appear in a variety of shapes. Papules are often called skin lesions, which are essentially changes in the color or... Read More

A papule is an area of abnormal skin tissue that is less than 1 centimeter around. A papule has distinct borders, and it can appear in a variety of shapes. Papules are often called skin lesions, which are essentially changes in the color or texture of your skin. Sometimes, papules cluster together to form a rash.

In most cases, papules are not serious and can be relieved with home treatments. However, if the papules appear soon after you start a new medication, consult your doctor immediately.

How will I recognize a papule?

Papules are usually small, only getting to be about the width of your fingernail. Your papule may have a dome shape or it may be flat on the top. Your papule may even be umbilicated, meaning it has a small impression in the middle that looks like a navel.

Why do I have papules?

Papules can be caused by a number of conditions that affect the skin. The most common ones are:

  • dermatitis
  • chickenpox
  • eczema

Dermatitis

Dermatitis, the medical term for inflammation of the skin, is the most common cause of a papule. Dermatitis is a condition characterized by a rash, which can be made up of papules. Contact dermatitis is the most common form of dermatitis. It’s caused when certain materials touch the skin and create an irritation or allergic reaction. Common culprits include:

  • latex and rubber
  • makeup
  • soap
  • chemicals and dyes on clothing
  • poison ivy or other such plants
  • jewelry

Chickenpox

Chickenpox is a highly contagious disease that develops after an individual is infected with the varicella-zoster virus. Chickenpox can create an extremely itchy rash of papules on the skin. The papules will have different appearances throughout the body.

This disease is easily spread through coughing and sneezing and can be serious for:

  • babies
  • adults
  • people with weakened immune systems

If you have never had chickenpox or have never been vaccinated against the disease, you have a greater risk of being infected. However, since most children have been vaccinated for it now, it is not as common anymore.

Eczema

Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is another common cause of papules. Eczema is characterized by itchy and scaly rashes, blisters, and extremely dry skin. The exact cause of eczema is unknown. An individual with eczema is often bothered by certain triggers. However, this condition is not caused by an allergy. Eczema is most commonly seen in infants, however it may last through adulthood.

Cutaneous candidiasis

Cutaneous candidiasis is an infection of the skin that is caused by a fungus, most commonly Candida albicans. Cutaneous candidiasis may also be called a skin or yeast infection. The fungus causes diaper rashes in babies and oral thrush or yeast infections in adults.

Other potential causes

Though less common, the following may also cause papules:

  • an adverse reaction to a medicine
  • lichen planus (a noncontagious skin disease that often occurs on the wrist and is characterized by reddish-purple, shiny bumps)
  • psoriasis (a skin condition characterized by red, tough skin and flaky, scale-like patches)
  • shingles (a painful rash and blisters caused by the varicella zoster virus)
  • leprosy (a disease characterized by skin sores, muscle weakness, and nerve damage)
  • acrodermatitis (a childhood skin condition that has been associated with conditions such as hepatitis B)
  • bug bites

When to see your doctor

If you’ve recently started a new medication and think you have developed papules as a result, talk to your doctor about your concern. Don’t stop taking any medications without letting your doctor know first. You might also want to see your doctor if you have papules as the result of a bug bite. Some bugs, such as ticks, can carry harmful diseases, such as Lyme disease. Lyme disease can cause symptoms ranging from an uncomfortable rash to brain inflammation. Talk to your doctor if your symptoms from a bug bite don’t get better after home treatment.

Treatment of your papule

In many cases, you can treat your papule effectively at home. Avoiding materials that irritate your skin can help clear the papules. Some additional treatment steps include:

  • Don’t scrub your skin during cleaning.
  • Use warm water —not hot water — and gentle soaps when washing.
  • Don’t put makeup or perfumed lotions on the affected area.
  • Discontinue use of any new makeup or lotion to see if it’s the cause.
  • Let the affected area get as much air as possible.

If you or your child has papules as a result of chickenpox, the only treatment is letting the disease run its course. However, talk to your doctor if your child has chickenpox and:

  • is a newborn or infant
  • has eczema
  • already has a weakened immune system

These children may develop more serious complications from chickenpox. Also notify a doctor if your child has chickenpox and someone else in the household has a weakened immune system.

If eczema is the cause of your papules, you might want to try bath products made of oatmeal that can soothe your skin. You can also moisturize twice a day with thicker emollients.

How you can prevent papules

Once you know the cause of your papules, you may be able to prevent them. For example:

  • Vaccines can help to prevent chickenpox, according to the Mayo Clinic.
  • Breast-feeding babies younger than 4 months has long been thought to help reduce their risk of having childhood eczema, according to a review published in the journal Advances in Dermatology and Allergology. This claim is controversial and has been challenged in a number of studies, including a worldwide review published in the British Journal of Dermatology.
  • Keeping your skin clean and dry can help prevent cutaneous candidiasis.

Medically reviewed by Nancy Choi, MD on November 7, 2016Written by Carmella Wint


11 possible conditions

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose. Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.