Heat rash, a discomforting condition, serves as an early warning sign that your body needs respite from excessive heat before more severe heat-related illnesses manifest. With record-breaking temperatures in recent weeks, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been diligent in advising the public on recognizing and preventing heat-related illnesses such as heat stroke, heat exhaustion, and heat cramps. However, one often overlooked heat-related issue is heat rash.
While heat rash itself is not a dangerous condition, prolonged exposure to high temperatures can lead to more severe heat-related problems, making it crucial to recognize early signs of your body struggling with the heat.
What are the indications of heat rash?
Heat rash, also known as miliaria or prickly heat, occurs when the ducts connecting eccrine sweat glands to the skin's surface become blocked or inflamed. These sweat glands play a vital role in regulating body temperature by releasing water through tiny ducts onto the skin, where it evaporates, cooling both the skin and the underlying blood.
However, excessive sweating in hot environments, especially when skin folds or tight clothing impede the sweat ducts' function, can cause blockages, trapping sweat beneath the skin. This leads to inflammation, resulting in small, itchy red bumps resembling pimples or blisters. Individuals with darker skin tones may not exhibit red bumps, but rather slightly darker bumps compared to the surrounding skin.
Where and when does heat rash commonly occur?
Heat rash can manifest on the neck, scalp, chest, groin, or elbow creases. It can occur whenever the body sweats, making it prevalent in hot and humid climates, during hospitalizations, in cases of fever, and during exercise. Newborns are also susceptible to heat rash due to their underdeveloped eccrine sweat glands. In newborns, heat rash appears as thin blisters or water droplets scattered across the face, trunk, arms, and legs. If you notice such a rash on your newborn, consult a pediatrician for guidance.
How can heat rash be treated?
In adults, heat rash can be effectively treated using home remedies that can also help prevent its recurrence.
1. Cool down: Step away from the heat and cool and dry your skin. Utilize fans, air conditioners, cool showers, or cool compresses on the affected areas. It's important to note that certain individuals are more vulnerable to heat, necessitating precautionary measures during dangerously high temperatures.
2. Prevent irritation: Avoid wearing synthetic garments that can trap heat to prevent skin irritation. Opt for light, loose-fitting cotton clothing that promotes airflow. If heat rash occurs in the groin area, it is advisable to refrain from wearing undergarments until the condition clears up.
3. Consider anti-itch products: Over-the-counter corticosteroid creams or calamine lotion can alleviate itching. It is recommended, however, that you steer clear of baby powder, oily or greasy moisturizers, and sunscreen, all of which have the potential to severely clog sweat ducts.
Typically, heat rash subsides within one to two days after cooling the body. In more severe cases, it may persist for a week or longer. If a heat rash does not improve after a week or if you experience pain, intense itching, or signs of infection, it is recommended to consult a doctor or follow up with a pediatrician in the case of infants.