Symptoms and Treatments for Heat Rash


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Summer brings hotter and more humid weather, any activity can cause you to sweat. Did you know that sweating is a good thing? When we sweat, the water on our skin evaporates, taking away with it some heat. Sweating allows us to regulate body temperature and cool off consistently. The hotter your body temperature gets, the more you’ll sweat to cool down.

Apart from staying hydrated, avoiding heat stroke and other summer care measures, you also need to be aware and prepared for heat rashes. Heat rash is also known as prickly heat, and is associated with sweating. Fortunately heat rash isn’t something to worry about and it is typically harmless.

Why does heat rash occur?

As we mentioned, sweating is an important part of a healthy body. Without sweat, you can end up overheating (this is what happens when you’re dehydrated and unable to sweat!). But sometimes, sweating can go wrong.

The skin has many tiny sweat glands all over it, sometimes these glands can get blocked. When sweat gets trapped within the skin it forms a heat rash. This can lead to tiny boils on the skin along with swelling. Here’s what you should watch for:

Heat Rash Symptoms

Heat rash can occur immediately or even several days after the hot weather and sweating have occurred.

  • The first symptoms will be tiny raised boils or bumps on the skin surface
  • It might also appear as a patchy rash without separation
  • Redness at the site can accompany the rash
  • Most commonly, heat rash is associated with an itchy prickly feeling (hence the name prickly heat)
  • Swelling and minor pain may also occur
  • In adults, it is most likely to occur on the face, under the breasts, or in the groin region
  • In children and babies, it mostly occurs on the neck, shoulders and chest area but may also appear in the armpits or groin
  • Heat rash tends to develop in the folds of the skin and places where clothing material rubs against the skin (such as the back or tummy)
  • In some cases, you may notice larger bumps rather than tiny boils

There are 3 main types of heat rash: miliaria crystallina, miliaria rubra and miliaria profunda. These three may have differing symptoms.

  • Miliaria Crystallina - This is a mild form of heat rash with tiny bumps filled with clear liquid. These bumps or boils may break away easily.
  • Miliaria Rubra - This type occurs a little deeper in the skin and causes larger bumps which may be more itchy and painful. Sometimes these bumps may become infected and it is then called miliaria pustulosa.
  • Miliaria Profunda - This is a rare form of heat rash that occurs in the innermost layers of the skin. This type is usually the most painful and has the largest bumps associated with it. The bumps may look similar to goosebumps and occasionally they can open up.

Treatment for Heat Rash

Usually, heat rash requires no treatment and will go away on its own. You may use a few self-care measures at home to ease your discomfort. Unless you notice severe symptoms, your doctor will not recommend serious medical intervention.

  • Use a cool cloth or an ice pack against the affected area to cool it down
  • Take a cold shower
  • Avoid scratching the rash, tap or pat it dry instead
  • Stop using perfumed or greasy skin products such as soaps, gels, moisturisers, creams or makeup (these can block the skin pores or make the inflammation worse)

Certain measures can also reduce your risk of developing heat rash in the first place, such as:

  • Using loose clothing made from natural fibres (cotton)
  • Staying cool and dry in the summer
  • Take frequent cool showers and dry yourself well each time
  • Clean and exfoliate your skin from time to time (this can prevent dead skin from blocking your sweat glands)

Although heat rash is a common and mild condition, sometimes it can get infected. This will require medical attention and your doctor may prescribe medications and creams. See your doctor if the rash does not get better in a few days, or if it gets worse, or if there are signs of infection or if there is an inability to sweat. Additionally, any signs of fever along with heat rash will require medical attention. In most cases, heat rash is not a cause for concern in adults or children.