What’s Causing Pinprick Red Dots on Your Skin That Don’t Itch?

This type of rash might seem harmless, but it can indicate a medical emergency

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Skin rashes can occur for lots of reasons and are common in infants, children, and adults.

Many rashes are irritated or itchy, so if you develop pinprick red dots on your skin that don’t itch, you might be wondering what’s going on.

Oftentimes, this type of rash is caused by tiny broken blood vessels beneath the skin that result in red dots known as petechiae.

If a pinprick rash is indeed petechiae, it can indicate a serious underlying condition like meningitis. If you have pinprick red dots on your skin that don’t itch and have emerged rapidly, you should see a healthcare provider immediately, even if you haven’t yet noticed any other symptoms. 

Here is what you should know about petechiae and the causes of pinprick red dots that don’t itch. 

healthcare provider examining arm

shironosov / Getty Images

Petechiae

Petechiae are red or purple dots appearing on the skin. They occur when blood vessels break beneath the surface of the skin, creating what is known as a petechial rash.

Petechiae are usually less than 2 millimeters in diameter. The spots are non-blanching, which means they do not disappear when you apply pressure to them.

How to Determine if a Rash Is Petechial

If you’re wondering whether a rash is petechial, you can press a clear glass to the surface of the skin. If the spots disappear under pressure, they are blanching, and therefore not petechiae. If the spots remain even under the pressure of the glass, they are non-blanching and likely petechiae.

Petechial rash is a dangerous situation because it is caused by internal bleeding and often indicates a serious underlying medical condition. Petechiae can be caused by a host of conditions that affect the cardiovascular or circulatory systems, including:

Because many of these are serious disorders that require acute medical care, you should contact a healthcare provider immediately if you or your child have a pinprick rash that is not itchy. 

Meningitis Can Cause Petechiae

Meningitis is the infection of the meninges, the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord.

One symptom of meningococcal meningitis is a headache accompanied by a petechial rash, known as the meningitis rash. Although the rash is common, it doesn’t always occur, so if you have other symptoms of meningitis—like a stiff neck and headache—be sure to seek medical care immediately. 

The meningitis rash is a petechial rash. At first, you might notice petechiae on the arms or other areas of the body. These may be blanching if you try the clear glass test mentioned above, but as the rash becomes more pronounced it will become non-blanching. The meningitis rash can progress from petechial to a purpuric rash, which looks more like bruising than pinpricks. 

Petechial rashes can be hard to spot on people with darker skin tones. Look for the rash on lighter areas like the soles of the feet and the palms of the hands. It can also appear on the roof of the mouth or the inside of the eyelids. 

Meningitis is a serious disease that progresses quickly. If you have a petechial rash, especially if it is paired with other meningitis symptoms like headache or stiff neck, seek immediate medical attention. 

Sepsis Can Causes Petitache

A petechial rash is a common symptom of sepsis, a bacterial blood poisoning that can turn deadly quickly. As with meningitis, a sepsis rash can begin with a pinprick appearance, before progressing into a more bruise-like appearance.

Other symptoms of sepsis, also known as septicemia, include:

  • Fever
  • Sweating
  • Rapid heart rate and breathing rate
  • Lethargy
  • Changes to alertness or consciousness

People in the following categories are at higher risk of sepsis:

  • Those with recent infections of the lungs, skin, intestine, or urinary tract
  • Those with chronic health conditions, such as diabetes
  • Babies less than 1 year old
  • Adults more than 65 years old

Sepsis is extremely serious and can lead to septic shock, which is deadly. If you have petechiae or any other symptoms of sepsis, reach out to a healthcare provider immediately.  

A Word From Verywell

Rashes are often harmless, more irritating than dangerous. However, a rash that presents as pinprick red dots on your skin that don’t itch can indicate a serious, potentially deadly, cause.

If you or your child have this type of rash, reach out to your healthcare provider immediately. They can determine whether you have a dangerous infection causing the rash and can help treat the rash and any underlying health conditions that may be causing it.

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4 Sources
Verywell Health 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.
  1. MedlinePlus. Bleeding under the skin. U.S. National Library of Medicine. May 13, 2019.

  2. MedlinePlus. Bleeding into the skin. Updated July 2, 2021.

  3. Meningitis Research Foundation. What is the ‘meningitis rash?’ Updated March 2019.

  4. Johns Hopkins Health. Septicemia.