As we age, our skin loses some of the even texture and tone of youth, and we’re also more vulnerable to some types of infections, rashes and allergies. Red dots on your (or your parent’s) skin can be something as harmless as broken capillaries or as urgent as a staph infection, which is why it’s a good idea to see your doctor when you have a new or changing growth or discoloration on your skin. Here are some types of red spots that are common on older skin.
When the tiny blood vessels in the skin break due to injury or infection, the result can be bruises or small red dots called petechiae. While one or two of these red spots may not be cause for concern, you should contact your doctor if you’re noticing these small bruises and red spots more often—and especially if you develop many of them at once. That’s because these types of bruises may indicate a problem with your medication. Petechiae can also be signs of a serious infection such as endocarditis, strep, or sepsis, which is a medical emergency (see more below).
Red spots on the skin can also be caused by contact dermatitis. As the American Academy of Dermatology explains, there are two ways to get contact dermatitis. The first is by touching something that causes an allergic reaction. Some people develop red spots where allergenic jewelry or cosmetics touch the skin. Essential oils can cause contact dermatitis in some people, although they’re often recommended as a treatment for allergies. Do a spot test first before using new cosmetics or oils if you’re concerned about contact dermatitis. If a rash develops, antihistamine cream can help.
Skin irritation from wet clothing or adult undergarments, harsh soaps, or too-frequent bathing can also cause contact dermatitis.
Heat rash, also known as “prickly heat,” is a common rash of small, itchy red bumps that develop when sweat is trapped next to the skin. Thick layers of lotion on the skin, skin folds that trap sweat, and long periods of immobility can cause heat rash. Repeated bouts of heat rash can lead to a more serious condition in which the skin’s sweat glands become blocked. For mild cases of heat rash, exposing the skin to air and coating it with over the counter hydrocortisone cream can help. For persistent cases, see a doctor because of the possibility of infection.
Seniors are at elevated risk for skin cancer, because of years of sun exposure and changes in the skin itself over time. Skin cancer comes in many forms, and some of them are reddish spots on the skin. Any new red area on the skin that oozes, won’t heal, or crusts over should be checked by a doctor. Other spots to show the doctor include red spots with rolled edges, shiny bumps on the skin, and any spot that is larger than a pencil eraser, has a ragged border, is dark in color, is asymmetrical, or is changing in appearance.
One type of rash that requires emergency care is caused by septicemia, also known as sepsis or blood infection. Seniors are more prone than younger people to sepsis, and the condition is life-threatening, so early diagnosis and treatment are musts. Johns Hopkins Medicine says that some sepsis patients develop a rash of “tiny blood spots that look like pinpricks in the skin. If untreated, these gradually get bigger and begin to look like fresh bruises.” Other sepsis symptoms may include fever, lethargy, and loss of consciousness. If your parent develops these symptoms, call 911 or taken them immediately to the emergency room.
Fortunately, most red spots on the skin aren’t life-threatening, although they can be annoying. Preventive care and regular checks of your skin can help keep you comfortable and healthy. Learn more about senior skin care and skin cancer prevention tips.