Petechiae are tiny, circular, nonraised patches that occur due to bleeding under the skin. They appear on the skin or in the mouth or eyelids.

Usually, a person will notice petechiae — pronounced “pi-TEE-kee-ee” — appearing in clusters.

  • Petechiae are commonly rash-like in appearance.
  • The appearance of petechiae can indicate many different conditions.

Some causes of petechiae are minor and do not require specific treatment, while others can be more severe. It is advisable to make an appointment with a doctor if petechiae appear.

Petechiae often look like a rash, which can be alarming. The spots themselves are tiny pinpricks that can be dark red or purple on lighter skin. On darker skin tones, they may appear brown.

They are usually flat to the touch and, unlike a typical rash, will not lose color when pressed. This is a useful way to tell whether any atypical skin characteristic is a petechial rash or not.

Petechiae occur when tiny blood vessels called capillaries break open. When this happens, blood leaks into the skin.

Some of the conditions that may result in the appearance of petechiae include:

Lifestyle

  • sunburn
  • strenuous activity that may cause straining, such as lifting weights or giving birth
  • local injury or trauma causing damage to the skin

Medical conditions

Medical treatments

Radiation and chemotherapy for cancer are also possible causes. In addition, certain medications are also commonly associated with skin manifestations such as petechiae.

Drugs that may cause petechiae as a side effect include:

A doctor should always look at petechiae because they could be an indication of a more serious condition. A doctor will assess symptoms and possible causes to determine whether the cause is mild or severe.

It is a good idea to keep checking the spots and making a note of any changes. If the number of petechiae continues to increase, a bleeding disorder may be the cause.

Treatment of petechiae will depend on the underlying cause.

If a person experiences petechiae as a reaction to a particular drug, the petechiae will disappear once they stop taking it.

If the cause is a viral or bacterial infection, the petechiae should clear up once the infection goes away.

A doctor will diagnose the cause of petechiae and recommend the appropriate treatment.

Medication

Depending on the underlying cause, and assuming none of these medications are causing the symptoms, a doctor may prescribe the following as a treatment:

  • antibiotics for treating a bacterial infection
  • corticosteroids to reduce inflammation
  • medications that can suppress an overactive immune system
  • chemotherapy, biologic therapy, or radiation to treat an underlying cancer

If the appearance of petechiae is not the result of an underlying condition requiring specific treatment, then resting, drinking lots of fluids, and using pain relievers, such as ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol), can help.

The appearance of petechiae should have no associated complications itself. Once the spots subside, there should be no scarring.

However, if the petechiae are the result of an underlying condition, some complications might occur.

Complications include:

  • damage to the kidneys, liver, spleen, heart, lungs, or other organs
  • various heart problems
  • infections that can occur in other parts of the body

Because petechiae are usually the result of another condition, the only way to prevent them from occurring is to try to avoid the conditions that cause them.

Good ways to reduce the chances of developing petechiae are by:

  • trying to stay fit and healthy
  • practicing good hygiene and avoiding infections
  • avoiding medications that may cause them

However, it is not possible to prevent all of the underlying conditions that cause petechiae. For this reason, it is a good idea to watch for the symptoms and contact a doctor if there are any concerning signs.

What other symptoms can go along with petechiae?

The appearance of the spots is the only indication of petechiae themselves. However, because it is often an indication of an underlying condition, a person may experience other symptoms alongside this.

These can include:

  • a hematoma
  • bleeding or bruising easily
  • bleeding in the gum, nose, or joints
  • heavy bleeding as part of a person’s menstrual period

What is the difference between petechiae and purpura?

These are similar skin manifestations. Petechiae are smaller in size than purpura. Petechiae are pinpoints and can appear in clusters up to 2 millimeters in diameter. Purpura describes a larger affected area on the skin.

Learn more about purpura vs. petechiae.

When should a person worry about petechiae?

There are some symptoms that may occur alongside petechiae that can indicate a severe or life threatening condition. The presence of these symptoms depends on the underlying cause.

The symptoms include:

If any of these symptoms occur alongside the appearance of petechiae, a person should seek immediate medical attention.