The elbows often become exposed to irritants from soaps, clothing or sun. They also are prone to pressure-sensitive skin irritations. Any number of medical conditions and environmental factors can contribute to the formation of small red bumps on the elbows that can become quite uncomfortable. You should see a dermatologist if the condition persists and home remedies fail to relieve your discomfort.
Bumps from Skin Parasites
Scabies is a condition caused by tiny mites that burrow under the skin where clothing is tight or in the skin folds. The elbows are common spots on which scabies appears, and the mites cause tiny red bumps that become severely itchy. This condition is highly contagious and usually spreads through human contact. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, the condition scabies affects nearly 300 million people worldwide every year. Intense scratching can cause infections, but scabies is easily treated with prescription medications.
Immune System-Related Bumps
When the immune system is weakened or is otherwise compromised, skin cells don't always slough off as they should and small red bumps may form on the elbows. The condition known as psoriasis is not contagious and usually runs in families. Various triggers can set off an outbreak. Many people who carry the psoriasis gene develop outbreaks in the winter or during especially stressful times in their lives. Other common circumstances that can trigger psoriasis and the ensuing red bumps include strep throat or an injury to the elbow. Some medications, especially lithium used to treat bipolar disorder, can cause psoriasis outbreaks.
Eczema is one of the most common skin disorders that can present with small red bumps on the elbows. According to Aetna InteliHealth, the skin condition can appear erratically at first and develop into a chronic condition. Permanent color changes on your elbows, thick skin and scaling and dryness can result after years of outbreaks. Eczema is an inherited disorder often linked to various allergies to substances such as gluten or pollen. Eczema often first appears in babies between the ages of 18 months and 2 years. In older children and adults, the red bumps usually appear on the inside of the elbows.
Wearing clothing made of 100 percent cotton and avoiding exposure to extreme temperatures and chemicals can prevent many skin irritations. Avoid blankets and clothing made of rough fibers such as wool or synthetics like polyester. Keep natural body oils and moisture intact by patting your elbows dry after bathing and applying moisturizer immediately to seal in the moisture.
When the red bumps become unbearably itchy, you should see a doctor. Scratching any elbow bumps can lead to infection and possibly spread the disease to other parts of your body or to other people, in the case of contagious diseases. If the bumps produce any blood or drainage, see a doctor. Get immediate emergency care if a red line forms down your arm from the red elbow bumps.
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."