Types, Causes, Treatment, and More

Types, Causes, Treatment, and More


Red bumps on the skin are common and could be a sign of irritation, inflammation, or an infection of the skin. There are a number of reasons why your skin may develop red bumps, including prurigo simplex, eczema, acne, viruses such as measles, and allergic reactions such as urticaria (hives).

Fortunately, treatments for red bumps on the skin can help provide relief, prevent the condition from worsening, and keep your skin healthy.

Many different skin conditions can cause red bumps on the skin. These include:

  • Acne: This common skin condition causes red bumps, or pimples, to form on the skin. Pimples are formed when the hair follicles under the skin become clogged.
  • Prurigo simplex: Also called itchy red bump disease, this skin condition causes small, very itchy, and raised skin lesions.
  • Eczema: This group of inflammatory skin conditions, including atopic dermatitis, can cause itchiness, dry skin, rashes, and other skin-related symptoms.
  • Measles: This highly contagious airborne virus causes flu-like symptoms, cough, and raised red bumps.
  • Herpes simplex viruses: Herpes simplex (HSV) has two types: type 1 and type 2. Type 1 is the primary cause of cold sores while type 2 is the primary cause of genital herpes.
  • Hives: Red, sometimes itchy bumps on the skin can be caused by allergies to certain foods or drugs. Other causes include stress and infections.

The symptoms of red bumps on the skin vary depending on what exactly is causing your condition. Each underlying cause has some signs in common, but other symptoms can vary.

Acne

Common on the face and shoulders, acne can cause pimples that appear as small red bumps (papules) or small red bumps with white or yellow pus inside (pustules). There may also be visible redness around the pimples. Pimples that have pus inside can sometimes also be painful.

Prurigo Simplex

Symptoms of prurigo simplex include small, severely itchy papules and non-cancerous lesions of white blood cells that appear as lumps on the skin. These are medically known as lymphocytic perivascular infiltrates. Occasionally, there may also be fluid buildup in the skin. 

Eczema

Symptoms of eczema can often vary from person to person and the type of eczema you have. However, common symptoms include itchiness, discolored or inflamed skin, scaly patches, and swelling.

Measles

Measles can cause symptoms such as solid, red, raised bumps. When you have measles, you’ll likely develop several bumps all over your body that can sometimes join together. But this condition also comes with other symptoms including cough, bloodshot or inflamed eyes, fever, muscle pain, sore throat, cough, and photosensitivity.

Herpes Simplex Viruses

Herpes sores can appear as one or more blisters around the mouth, genitals, or rectum. Once the blisters break, they leave behind painful red sores that may take a week or more to heal. Symptoms such as swollen glands, fever, or body aches may also occur during the first outbreak of herpes.

Hives

Symptoms of hives include red, raised bumps that may be large or small in size. The type and size of hives you experience will depend on the severity of the allergy that you have. Sometimes, the bumps may also be itchy and cause swelling.

Several underlying conditions can cause red bumps to develop on your skin. These include:

  • Acne: Acne occurs when pores (tiny holes on the skin’s surface) become clogged. When hair and oil glands become clogged with dead skin cells and oil, they cause a blockage that forms a white plug (whitehead) or a dark plug (blackhead) in your pores. If bacteria get trapped in the plugs, the body’s immune system reacts and causes pimples to develop.
  • Prurigo simplex: Short-term cases of prurigo simplex commonly occur after insect bites or in areas with poor sanitary conditions. In contrast, chronic (long-lasting) prurigo is often triggered by internal factors in the body that cause itchiness, such as underlying skin conditions.
  • Eczema: While the exact cause of eczema is unknown, the most common type of eczema—atopic dermatitis—results from an overactive immune system that causes the skin barrier (the outermost layer of your skin) to become dry and itchy. Having a family history of eczema and other autoimmune disorders can increase your risk of developing this condition.
  • Hives: Stress, infections, and allergies to foods or drugs cause hives. People who have allergies are more likely to get hives.
  • Viruses: Viral illnesses like measles and herpes simplex can also cause red bumps on your skin alongside other symptoms.

If you have red bumps on your skin, schedule an appointment with a healthcare provider (such as a board-certified dermatologist) for a proper evaluation. A dermatologist is a medical doctor who specializes in treating skin, hair, and nail conditions.

Many conditions can cause red bumps on the skin. A dermatologist can assess your symptoms, make a proper diagnosis, and prescribe a personalized treatment plan.

Many medical and over-the-counter (OTC) treatments can reduce or eliminate red bumps. Your treatment plan will depend on what’s causing your bumps, but common treatment options include medications and ointments.

Options for Skin Conditions

Prescription medications can help treat different types of red bumps. You’ll likely need a prescription for conditions like prurigo simplex and eczema. Each condition has different medication options.

In the case of prurigo simplex, studies have shown that medications such as Otrexup (methotrexate), Imuran (azathioprine), and CellCept (mycophenolate mofetil) can help reduce symptoms. Gengraf (cyclosporine), a type of immunosuppressive drug, can also be effective for severe cases of prurigo simplex.

To treat eczema, prescription topical medications (such as corticosteroids applied directly to the skin), immunosuppressants, or injectable biologics are some treatments that can help improve moderate to severe cases of eczema.

Options for Acne and Hives

If your red bumps are due to hives or acne, OTC medications from your local pharmacy or drug store can help reduce symptoms.

Topical acne creams or lotions formulated with acne-fighting ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide, sulfur, and salicylic acid can help reduce inflammation or kill acne-causing bacteria. Antihistamines like Benadryl (diphenhydramine) can also improve symptoms of hives.

Options for Viral Illnesses

There aren’t specific medical treatments for viral infections like measles. In most cases, you need to let the virus run its course. Home remedies like getting rest and drinking fluids can help the virus pass faster. However, antiviral medications can help in the case of herpes. Valtrex (valacyclovir) can help heal sores quicker and shorten the length of outbreaks.

While it isn’t always possible to prevent red bumps on the skin, there are some ways you can reduce your risk. Consider the following prevention strategies:

  • Wear protective equipment such as knee and elbow pads, helmets, and gloves when playing sports to prevent bumps, cuts, and scrapes
  • Clean your skin with soap and warm water if you develop a cut or scrape and cover the injury with a bandage to keep bacteria out
  • Ensure you are up-to-date on routine vaccinations, such as the measles vaccine
  • Use condoms every time you have sex to help reduce the risk of herpes
  • Cleanse your skin every day with a mild, gentle soap or cleanser to limit acne
  • Get tested for allergies if you’re experiencing hives often

It’s important to treat red bumps on your skin. If left untreated, some underlying causes of your bumps can cause health complications. Consider the following risks:

Condition Potential Complications
Prurigo simplex Chronic (long-term) episodes of itchy bumps on the skin
Severe eczema Increased risk of asthma and higher rates of hospitalization
Hives Obstruction in the airways and difficulty breathing, especially if you don’t seek treatment for the allergy that is causing your hives
Measles Pneumonia, bronchitis, diarrhea, and ear infections

Red bumps on the skin can indicate a number of different health conditions, including acne, hives, eczema, or viruses such as measles. Because several conditions can cause these bumps, symptoms can vary.

While red bumps aren’t always a cause for concern (such as acne), it is important to seek care from a healthcare provider and get treatment to avoid complications for skin conditions causing your symptoms.

Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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