Small, Raised, Itchy Red Bumps on Elbows, Knees and Knuckles

Red bumps on elbows and/or knees can be pretty uncomfortable, more so if you cannot spend five minutes without an urge to scratch them. Included here are some common causes and treatment options for this problem.

Red Itchy Bumps on Elbows

Red itchy bumps on elbows can result from one of the following skin conditions:

Dermatitis herpetiformis: Also referred to as Duhring disease, this skin condition is characterized by extremely itchy rash and red bumps or blisters.

According to the Medline Plus website, the condition is chronic and thus typically lasts a long time with the symptoms tending to come and go and is easily confused with other conditions such as psoriasis and eczema.

Dermatitis herpetiformis usually affects the adult population – usually beginning at the age of 20 years onwards – but may as well affect children.

Although the cause of the condition is not well understood, scientists believe it is an autoimmune disorder. Sensitivity to gluten is also linked to the condition even though further scientific studies are needed to ascertain this.

The bumps (or blisters) resulting from dermatitis herpetiformis usually occur on the elbows, knees, buttocks or back and is usually accompanied by a rash that is approximately equal-sized on both sides (if occurring on the elbows, knee or butt).


It is absolutely important to seek medical treatment if you suspect dermatitis herpetiformis because it can lead to intestinal cancer if left untreated.

After diagnosis (biopsy, blood tests, etc), a dose of dapsone – an antibiotic – may be given.

Your doctor may also recommend sticking to a strictly gluten-free diet since gluten is believed to be a potential culprit.

Immunosuppressive medicines may as well be prescribed but these have been found to be less effective than dapsone.

Contact dermatitis

Contact dermatitis can as well be the cause of itchy bumps on the skin. This is an inflammation of the skin as a result of allergic reaction to an irritant that have come into direct contact with the skin. Rough fibers such as wool and synthetics e.g. polyester can for example irritate the skin in some people.

It can also occur when the body’s immune system reacts to an allergen e.g. certain medications.

Taking antihistamines usually helps to relieve the symptoms and treat the condition. It is also advisable to identify the causative agent (the allergen or irritant) and avoid future contact with it; otherwise the problem might keep recurring.

It is also advisable to wear loose fitting clothing as the condition heals, preferably made from natural materials like cotton (not wool).

Mosquito bites: Mosquito bites may as well be the factor behind those sickening itchy bumps on your elbows.

To suck blood from its victim, a mosquito usually inserts its proboscis into the skin. The mosquito then pours saliva into the blood to avoid clotting of the blood. The body immune system reacts to mosquito’s saliva leading to an itchy red bump(s) that may last as long as 48 hours.

Treatment is usually not required for most people.

Scabies: Scabies may also be the underlying factor for those red itchy bumps that have suddenly popped out of your elbows. The condition is caused by tiny mites that burrow under the skin.

Scabies is highly contagious and is transmitted through touch with an infected person. As the American Academy of Dermatology points out, scabies afflict almost 300 million people around the globe annually.

Scabies can get extremely itchy, and while scratching the skin can offer a moment of relief, it can also increase the risk of infection. It is advisable to seek medical attention right away. Prescription medication is usually required for treatment of scabies.

Red Bumps on Elbows Not Itchy

As for red bumps on the elbow that are not accompanied by itching, granuloma annulare may be to blame. Also known as necrobic papulosis, the skin condition manifests itself in red non itchy bumps occurring in circular shaped rings.

The bumps tend to occur on joints and the rings are usually depressed in the middle. The fingers and back of hands are the parts of the body mostly affected but the condition can as well occur on the elbows, foot or ankle.

Most often the condition affects the skin of children and young adults and tends to affect girls more. The cause of granuloma annulare is not yet known.

The condition usually clears away in a few weeks or months but it may recur.


  • Although treatment is usually not required, patients concerned about the look of their skin may benefit from topical steroid creams and ointments that help to clear the bumps.
  • Cryotherapy (freezing with liquid nitrogen) may also be used.
  • Some doctors may also decide to use steroid injections.
  • Oral medication and light treatment may as well be used.

Raised Red Bumps on Elbows, Knees & Knuckles

What about a raised red bumps on elbows, knees and knuckles, you ask? Well, Dermatitis herpetiformis, often abbreviated to DH may be to blame. You may as well find the disease referred to as the gluten rash or Duhring disease.

Gluten intolerance (celiac) is often the underlying cause for this condition which is though to be due to autoimmune disorder.

Dermatitis herpetiformis has a genetic aspect and is characterized by red, raised, patchy rash and bumps that can turn purple when scratched. The condition is chronic and tends to recur on the elbows, knees, and buttocks. It is in most cases accompanied by intestinal damage.

The condition usually responds well to treatment with dapsone but immunosuppressive medications can as well be prescribed in some cases. Taking a gluten-free is also recommended.

Painful Red Bump on Elbow

Olecranon bursitis is often the cause of painful red bump on elbow. This is an inflammation of olecranon bursa (a small fluid-filled sac behind the elbow joint that helps with smooth movement of the joint).

Also called Popeye’s elbow, after the famous cartoon character that has a similar bump at the back of its elbow, the condition occurs as a result of mild but repeated trauma e.g. leaning on the elbows on your desk, one-off injury e.g. a blow to the elbow, arthritis, or infection.

It is characterized by painful movement of the elbow (or pain when pressure is exerted on the elbow), swelling, and redness. The elbow may also feel warm to touch. Some patients may also experience fever and swollen lymph node in the armpits.

Although some mild cases of olecranon bursitis may heal without treatment, painful bumps may benefit from the following self-care and medical treatment options:

  • Rest, Ice packs, Compression (wearing a bandage) and Elevation (keeping your elbows in an elevated position), collectively referred to as RICE treatment.
  • Taking OTC anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen, Naproxen, diclofenac, and aspirin.
  • Drainage of the fluid with a needle
  • Steroid injection to reduce inflammation and encourage healing
  • Surgery
  • Ultrasound and electrical treatment
  • Oral antibiotics to treat infections

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