Petechiae (Child)

Petechiae (peh-TEE-kee-eye) are tiny (2 mm) dark red or purple spots on the skin. They are flat on the skin, not raised. They often show up very suddenly. They are often caused by a viral or bacterial infection. They may also be caused by a reaction to a medicine or a collagen disorder. Petechiae usually occur on the arms, legs, stomach, and buttocks. They don’t itch. Petechiae that continue to grow and blend together may mean that your child has a bleeding disorder.

Petechiae caused by an infection or medicine go away on their own without treatment. They don’t leave scars. Scattered petechiae with a fever may be the sign of a very serious infection that needs immediate medical care. If a bleeding disorder is causing the spots, the disorder will need to be treated. Your child may need more testing for a diagnosis.

Because petechiae may be a sign of a serious health condition, they should always be looked at by a healthcare provider.

Home care

  • Follow any instructions your child’s healthcare provider gives you. This may include changing a medicine that your child takes. Don’t start or stop any medicines without talking with your child’s provider.

  • Check your child’s spots regularly for changes. The spots may turn purple as they fade and go away.

  • Contact the healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about your child’s health.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your child’s healthcare provider, or as advised.

When to seek medical advice

Call your child’s healthcare provider or seek medical attention right away if any of these occur:

  • Your child has a fever (See Fever and children, below)

  • Your child’s condition gets worse in any way

  • The spots increase or get bigger

  • The spots blend together

  • Long streaks appear under your child’s nails

  • Your child has bruising that is unexplained or gets worse

  • Your child shows irritability, such as crying that can’t be soothed

  • Your child becomes lethargic or unusually sleepy, or does not act like normal

  • Your child has breathing problems

Fever and children

Use a digital thermometer to check your child’s temperature. Don’t use a mercury thermometer. There are different kinds of digital thermometers. They include ones for the mouth, ear, forehead (temporal), rectum, or armpit. Ear temperatures aren’t accurate before 6 months of age. Don’t take an oral temperature until your child is at least 4 years old.

Use a rectal thermometer with care. It may accidentally poke a hole in the rectum. It may pass on germs from the stool. Follow the product maker’s directions for correct use. If you don’t feel okay using a rectal thermometer, use another type. When you talk to your child’s healthcare provider, tell him or her which type you used.

Below are guidelines to know if your child has a fever. Your child’s healthcare provider may give you different numbers for your child.

A baby under 3 months old:

  • First, ask your child’s healthcare provider how you should take the temperature.

  • Rectal or forehead: 100.4°F (38°C) or higher

  • Armpit: 99°F (37.2°C) or higher

A child age 3 months to 36 months (3 years):

  • Rectal, forehead, or ear: 102°F (38.9°C) or higher

  • Armpit: 101°F (38.3°C) or higher

Call the healthcare provider in these cases:

  • Repeated temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher

  • Fever that lasts more than 24 hours in a child under age 2

  • Fever that lasts for 3 days in a child age 2 or older

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© 2000-2020 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.