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Petechiae in children can be caused by a number of different things, but viral and bacterial infections are among the most common — and also the most serious. The three most concerning tend to be meningococcal sepsis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and a Staphylococcus infection. Not all instances of outbreak are so problematic, though. It’s often the case that the condition happens as a result of broken capillaries, which is common after bruising or other trauma. Kids who have bad colds or respiratory infections that cause violent coughing may also see red on the head and neck as a result of cough-related muscle strain. In rarer cases the condition can be caused by certain genetic conditions and joint disorders, too.
The condition known medically as petechiae is basically any instance of skin spots that happen as a result of bleeding underneath the skin. They can look like a rash, and are usually red but may also be purple or brown. In most cases the spots aren’t itchy or raised, though, and they don’t usually respond to topical creams. They only way to treat them is to figure out what’s causing them. It’s usually true that the things that cause the condition in children are the same as the things that cause it in adults. Kids are often more prone to certain infections, though, and may get these spots more frequently as a result.
Viral and Bacterial Infections
Meningococcal disease, a contagious disease more common in the spring and winter months, typically affects about 10% of children exhibiting petechiae-like symptoms. In these cases the spots might appear along with fever, headache, and muscle aches. They often start small and increase in size. This disease is spread through contact with oral or nasal fluids, and is treated with antibiotics, usually given intravenously in a hospital.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever might produce petechiae on the wrists and ankles of children, but some youngsters never actually show outward signs. The disease is most commonly carried by ticks; when ticks bite people, they transfer bacteria from their saliva into the blood. Symptoms might not appear for up to two weeks, but once they come they are usually quick to set it. A child might become ill very quickly with a high fever, requiring antibiotics to treat the disease. It can be fatal if not diagnosed and treated early.
Staphylococcus, a bacterium spread by contact with open wounds, may also cause petechiae in children. Staph infections cause many diseases, with more than 30 types afflicting humans. Symptoms might be mild or severe, and typically are treated with antibiotics.
It’s also very common for petechiae in children to appear as a result of capillaries breaking under the skin. This can happen for a number of reasons, usually involving some sort of trauma. Young children are especially prone to these sorts of spots as a result of intense coughing if their muscles aren’t strong enough to contain the force of the coughs.
A condition known as Henoch-Scholein purpura can also be a cause, though this is much rarer. Among other things, this condition causes petechiae on the legs and buttocks, and tends to be most common in children between two and ten years old. Some children also develop swelling and pain in the joints and abdominal pain. These symptoms generally resolve within a few days, but might cause kidney damage in isolated cases. Pediatricians often recommend frequent urine tests up to six months after the disorder is first detected to check for renal complications.
When to Get Help
The spots associated with petechiae can be alarming for any parent, though doctors usually say that there’s no cause for real concern, at least not at first. In many cases the condition will clear up on its own after a few days. Spots that last for more than a week should typically be checked out, though, as should patches that grow, move, or change color. Early screening and detection can be essential in the case of something serious.