The first two weeks of July were the hottest on human record on Earth, and people across the country continue to suffer from a prolonged, suffocating heatwave. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has repeatedly issued warnings and tips on recognizing and preventing heat-related illnesses such as heat stroke, heat exhaustion, and heat cramps.
However, one heat-related illness that people aren’t always aware of is heat rash.
“Heat rash can be an indication that excessive heat exposure can lead to other serious heat-related problems if not addressed,” says Harvard University. Dr. Abigail Waldman, a dermatologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said. “Although heat rash itself is not dangerous, continued exposure to high temperatures can lead to heat exhaustion and heat stroke, so it’s important to watch for early signs that your body is suffering from the heat.”
What are the symptoms of heat rash?
Prickly heat is also known as rash or prickly heat. It is caused by blockage or inflammation of the ducts leading from the eccrine sweat glands to the surface of the skin.
Eccrine sweat glands help maintain a constant body temperature. As the temperature inside the body increases, water is released from these glands and rises to the surface of the skin through small tubes. There it quickly evaporates, cooling the skin and the blood underneath.
However, excessive sweating in hot temperatures can clog the sweat ducts, especially if skin folds or tight-fitting clothing impede their function.
Sweat gets trapped under the skin. This causes inflammation, which results in small, itchy, red bumps that resemble small pimples or blisters. For darker skinned people, these small itchy bumps may not look red, but they do appear slightly darker than the surrounding skin.
When and where is heat rash most likely to occur?
Prickly heat can appear on the neck, scalp, chest, groin, and elbow creases.
“Prickly heat can occur whenever the body sweats, so it’s common in hot and humid climates, during hospital stays, with fevers, and during exercise,” says Dr. Waldman.
Prickly heat can also occur in newborns whose eccrine sweat glands are not fully developed. Prickly heat in newborns looks like very thin blisters or droplets that spread over large areas of the face, trunk, arms, and legs. If you notice a rash like this, contact your pediatrician for advice.
How do you treat heat rash?
Prickly heat in adults can be easily treated with home remedies. “Symptom relief techniques can also help prevent heat rash in adults and babies,” says Dr. Waldman.
- cool down. The first step is to get out of the heat and let your skin cool and dry. Use a fan or air conditioner, take a cold shower, or apply a cold compress to the affected area. It’s important to understand that some people are sensitive to heat and have a plan for staying safe when temperatures are dangerously high.
- Prevent irritation. To prevent skin irritation, avoid wearing clothing made from synthetic materials that trap heat. (Dry-fit garments help wick moisture away from the skin, but can often be too snug.) Instead, wear light, loose-fitting clothing that allows airflow over the skin. Wear cotton clothing. If heat rash develops around the groin area, avoid wearing underwear until it heals.
- Try anti-itch products. For itching, use an over-the-counter topical corticosteroid cream or calamine lotion. However, avoid baby powder, oily or greasy moisturizers, and sunscreens as they can further block your sweat ducts.
Prickly heat usually heals in 1-2 days when the body is cooled. More severe prickly heat he may last more than a week. If the heat rash doesn’t go away after a week, see your doctor (or visit your pediatrician). Also, if you experience pain or severe itching, or if you think the rash is infected, get medical attention right away.