It is quite common to have red spots on the legs because they are exposed to any number of allergens and chemicals. You can have a wide variety of spots on your legs that aren't necessarily life threatening or even a problem.
The red spots on your legs can be raised or flat, itchy or completely painless. Sometimes the red lesions will fade to a darker patch on the skin. The red spots on your legs can congregate around your feet and ankles or they can work their way up the whole leg, even spreading to other areas of the body. It is important to keep track of the details of the red spots on your legs so that you can adequately explain them to your doctor. Red spots that persist with unknown cause should be examined by a physician.
Common Causes of Red Spots on Legs
- Atopic dermatitis - Atopic dermatitis is the most common cause of red spots on the legs. It is usually very itchy, affects children more than adults, and occurs in places where skin meets skin. Atopic dermatitis is common in the bends of the knees or where your socks cover the flesh. It can come in flares and is usually treated with moisturizers and removal from whatever may trigger a flare. If the rash becomes infected, an antibiotic may be necessary.
- Contact dermatitis - Contact dermatitis is the body's response to an irritant. For instance, those who are allergic to latex and are touched by the material will develop blistered, irritated skin. It is important to find the source of the allergic reaction. Allergic reactions on the legs can be from a new type of soap, new laundry detergent or a different brand of socks. Contact dermatitis will create itchy, blistered spots on the legs.
- Folliculitis - This is another condition that is commonly seen on the lower legs. This is the infection and inflammation of the hair follicles. It is most commonly caused by shaving the legs. Sometimes they are itchy, but you may not feel them at all. In some instances, they appear in the form of small, white headed pustules. Folliculitis can be treated by staying away from shaving or waxing.
- Some skin cancers - Skin cancers can present as red splotches on the legs. Basal cell carcinoma and Bowen's disease grow slowly with no symptoms other than the red marks, though occasionally they can bleed. Another type of skin cancer, invasive squamous cell carcinoma, grows quickly in scaly lumps. Surgical removal of these patches is often necessary to treat the skin cancer.
Other Causes of Red Spots on Legs
- Diabetes mellitus - A few types of red spots on the legs are associated with diabetes mellitus. For instance, venous stasis ulcers look like open sores or popped blisters, and they are often caused by the breakdown of the vascular system in this disease. Another condition, necrobiosis lipoidica, appears as brownish patches and comes from being dependent on insulin for blood sugar control.
- Scleroderma - Scleroderma is a chronic condition that causes leg rashes. This is an autoimmune disease that is caused by a protein called collagen malfunctioning. If this protein is produced in excess, it can cause the skin to become excessively elastic, causing red spots or blushes to appear on the legs and other areas of the body.
- Allergies - There are many different types of allergies and they can each affect the body differently. Allergies to things such as insect bites can cause red bumps to appear on the affected area which may include the legs. Failing to cover the legs properly when you are outdoors can cause your legs to develop these rashes. Allergies to cosmetics such as lotions can also cause red spots to appear on the legs.
- Infections - Infections on the skin can cause red blotches to appear on the skin. These are frequently caused by a bacterial infection that is affecting the skin. Bacterial infections will require medications to eliminate the blotches on the skin.
- Hives - Hives are frequently caused by exposure to an allergen. These will appear as raised red bumps that can be very itchy. Any area that is exposed to the allergen can develop these hives including the legs, body, arms or face. Hives can also develop if you have consumed a substance you are allergic to such as shellfish or medications. Some also develop hives in extreme hot or cold.
- Vasculitis - Vasculitis is a condition that causes blood vessels in one part of the body to become inflamed as they thicken and weaken. If this condition goes untreated it can cause organ death in nearby areas. Vasculitis can cause red blotches on the skin, immune system issues, allergic reactions or loss of appetite. The affected area will often be quite painful.
- Cytotoxic drugs - Exposure to medications used to treat arthritis such as cytotoxic medications can cause red spots to appear on the lower portion of the legs. This can be a sign that you are experiencing bleeding under the skin. Watch for additional side effects including chills, fever, sore throat, blood in the urine or unusual bruising. Contact your doctor right away if these side effects occur.
Suggestions for Treatment
In general, you should avoid dry skin on your legs by using a cleanser without soap in it and simple emollients. You may want to get hypoallergenic products to reduce the risk of causing a breakout from the ingredients.
You also want to avoid swelling in the legs from standing for long periods or having your legs hang down when sitting. Propping your feet up on a stool or wearing compression hose can keep your legs from breaking out in spots.
If you are going to use a cream for your legs look for a brand that has coal tar as an ingredient because it helps with the itchiness. You may also need antibiotics or an antibiotic cream if the rash becomes infected. Sometimes topical steroids are used to decrease the swelling and inflammation that is causing the red spots on the legs. If you suspect infection or just can't get the spots to go away, you need to see your doctor for a more thorough assessment.