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What is a Heat Rash?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Heat rash is a skin condition which is characterized by a reddish, pimply rash which is especially common in the folds of the skin or around tight waistbands and clothing. It is caused by excessive heat, which clogs the sweat glands of the body. Although this type of rash is not inherently dangerous, it does suggest that the patient may be getting dangerously hot. In addition to treating the heat rash, it is important to take steps to ensure that the condition does not happen again.

You may hear a doctor refer to a heat rash as milaria. Other people call the condition a sweat rash, in a reference to the blocked sweat glands, or they term it “prickly heat,” in a reference to the faintly itchy, prickling sensation which accompanies the rash. Astringents like witch hazel can help to relieve the itching, while cooling ice compressed may relieve the heat which is causing the rash to appear. Milaria can be prevented by staying clean and cool, with the assistance of regular showers, air conditioning, and fans.

Infants and young children are especially susceptible to heat rash, both because they have under-developed sweat glands and because they cannot dress themselves or vocalize about feeling too hot. Since most parents want to keep their infants warm, they may err on the side of caution and get their children too hot. Runners may also get heat rash, as do people in hot, humid climates.

Ultimately, the rash will go away once the body has had a chance to grow fresh cells around the sweat glands. If it does break out, regular cool showers with mild soap are an excellent idea, since they will keep the affected skin clean and reduce the risk of infection. Oil-free lotions can help to control the itching associated with a heat rash, and doctors may prescribe antibiotics or antiseptics to prevent bacterial colonization of the delicate skin.

A basic heat rash is called milaria rubra. Should the skin become infected, it is termed milaria pustulosa, and it requires more aggressive medical treatment. It may also be more painful for the patient. A recurring case is known as milaria profunda, and it should be addressed by a doctor, since it indicates that the patient's body is getting too hot on a regular basis. This can be extremely dangerous or even fatal if it turns into heat stroke or heat exhaustion.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By pharmchick78 — On Jul 23, 2010

@StreamFinder -- a thin layer of a hydrocortisone cream can be good for kicking the itch that comes with heat rash, but be careful to avoid any creams that are oily, since that will just block the glands more, like you said.

You can also try something like the aloe gel that people use for sunburns, but some people find that it is actually irritating to the skin, and can cause a secondary rash on top of the heat rash.

By StreamFinder — On Jul 23, 2010

Is it a good idea to use an anti-itch medication, like hydrocortisone cream for a heat rash treatment, or will that just clog the glands more and make it last longer?

By CopperPipe — On Jul 23, 2010

That's good to know about kids and heat rash.

I know as a parent it's always tempting to overdress your kid, even if you know they're going to be playing outside.

Just another reason to check up on your kids, even when they're just outside playing.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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