Although they are typically not a sign of serious medical conditions, itchy white bumps on skin can be bothersome, more so if they occur all over the body. We sought to find out some of the skin conditions associated with the symptoms and here is our finding.
Talking of itchy white bumps on skin as some patients often report in various online forums and Q-A sites opens the doors to a lot of confusion and inconclusive talks since most itchy skin conditions are accompanied by a red rash or red bumps and only rarely are they associated with white bumps.
In fact what people perceive as white bumps in some cases may be central plugs – that are filed with pus or other materials – on top of red bumps. Nevertheless, you may want to compare your symptoms with those of the following skin conditions when evaluating your specific case:
Keratosis pilaris: This is a common skin condition that gives the skin a sandpaper-like feel. It happens when dead skin cells do not fall off as they naturally do. When that happens, the skin protein called keratin plug the hair follicles leading to small goose bumps like rough bumps.
According to the Mayo clinic, the bumps are usually white or red in color and typically occur on the upper arms, cheeks, legs, and buttocks. Although keratosis bumps are usually painless, their rough, dry feel can make you uncomfortable.
The area of skin affected by the bumps often gets dry and can get particularly itchy. The symptoms may worsen during winter months when humidity levels are usually at their lowest and the skin this tends to get drier.
Keratosis pilaris may affect individuals of any age but it tends to affect young children more.
Urticaria: Sometimes referred to as hives, urticaria is skin disorder that is characterised by pale red or white, raised, itchy bumps (called weals) each of which is surrounded by a small red patch on the skin, called a flare. The skin condition looks very much like a nettle sting.
According to the Dermnetz.org website, these weals (or wheals if you like) seem are usually large, ranging in size from a few millimetres to several centimetres which make them seem like some kind of swelling on the skin.
Urticaria is frequently caused by allergic reactions even though there are numerous non-allergic causes. Allergic reactions cause a release of histamine from mast and basophils in the skin which then lead to a leakage of the small blood vessels.
The weals may hang around for just a few minutes or take several hours before they disappear and usually tend to change in shape over time. They vary from round and ring-shaped ones to those that have a map-like pattern.
Although most cases clear in less than 24 hours, new weals may appear as the old ones go away, sometimes migrating to different parts of the body.
Molluscum contagiosum: Molluscum contagiosum is a common viral infection of the skin that causes round, raised, firm, and painless bumps that are white, pink or flesh colored. The bumps may be as small as pinhead or as large as a pencil eraser and have a characteristic dimple-like indentation at the center.
Molluscum contagiosum bumps (called mollusca) can occur anywhere on the body alone or in clusters and are sometimes itchy.
Although molluscum contagiosum commonly affect children it can affect adults as well, with those having a compromised immune system due to conditions such as AIDS being at higher risk.
In children, mollusca tend to appear on the face, armpits, neck, arms and hands but may appear anywhere else except the soles and palms. In adults, molluscum contagiosum is considered an STI (Sexually Transmitted Illness) and tends to occur on the upper thighs, genitals, buttocks and trunk (especially lower abdomen).
The virus responsible for the condition is typically spread through contact with an open lesion or contact with contaminated objects e.g. toys, towels etc.
According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, molluscum contagiosum usually go away without any treatment in a span of 6 to 12 months but some cases may last as long as 4 years.
If mollusca make you uncomfortable however, there are various medical interventions available to remove them. These range from prescription medications e.g. Cantharidin and topical treatments e.g. Tretinoin creams to freezing, laser therapy, surgical removal, de-coring, and needle electrosurgery.
“I have small, itchy white bumps on the hands and a small section of the right leg. They are not painful but they make my skin look very dry and leathery. Have an idea what the heck this thing is?” Juliet
From Juliet’s description, this seems like a case of keratosis pilaris. According to the Mayo Clinic, keratosis pilaris bumps tend to occur on the upper arms, legs, cheeks and buttocks. They have a characteristic sandpaper-like feel and are typically associated with dry skin which is something that Juliet did mention in her question.
Keratosis pilaris doesn’t require treatment in most cases but you may want to aid the healing process by moisturizing and exfoliating the skin (with a small washcloth or brush immediately after shower). Applying topical creams with glycolic acid, salicylic acid, urea and lactic acid can also help.
We have talked more about keratosis pilaris in a previous section of the article.
What about itchy white bumps that transcends all over the body?
Well, urticaria is one likely suspect. As we have already mentioned, urticaria is characterized by short-lived red bumps called weals that are surrounded by a red area of skin called a flare. The weals tend to disappear and usher in new ones, sometimes in different area of the body. For more details, read the section titled “itchy white bumps on skin”.
You may also want to check your bumps against the following list as you seek to narrow down to a specific condition:
Keratosis pilaris: Upper arms, legs, buttocks and cheeks
Molluscum contagiosum: Face, neck, armpits, arms, and hands (in children); lower abdomen, genitals, buttocks, upper thighs (in adults)
This is just a general guideline of locations commonly affected by specific skin condition. You, of course, also need to consider specific characteristics and symptoms associated with these skin conditions as highlighted in other sections of this article.
As for “white, fluid-filled itchy bumps on the fingers” as one of our readers – who chose to use the pen name “puzzled mom” by the way – describes her condition in an inquiry sent via comment section of another article, dyshidrotic eczema may be to blame even though the description makes the use of the term “bumps” not very correct technically speaking.
Otherwise known as dyshidrotic dermatitis or Pompholyx, this skin condition is appears as small, itchy fluid-filled blisters on the arms. The blisters usually affect the palm of the hand and/or the fingers only.
The cause of the condition is not yet known and the blisters tend come and go with a tendency to recur more in warm weather seasons.
People who work with cement and in moist environments are at higher risk of developing dyshidrotic eczema and so are people with hay fever and other allergies. Stress can also trigger the condition.
Common treatment options are:
What about white bumps on elbow you ask? Well, keratosis pilaris may be the underlying cause. The characteristic dry feel of keratosis pilaris affected skin (kind of like sandpaper) makes it easily distinguishable from other similar conditions.
As for Molluscum contagiosum which may as well be to blame for elbow bumps, the dimple-like centers are unmistakable.
Both these skin conditions have been covered in previous sections.