You don't need to sweat out a heat rash

July 22, 2005|By Doug Worgul | Doug Worgul,Knight Ridder / Tribune

It's the recipe for a prickly situation -- too much time out in the sun, running around playing, sweating and sweating some more, but, because you're trying to avoid sunburn, you keep your shirt on and insist that your kids keep theirs on, too.

Later that week, you or the kids or all of you are afflicted with tiny, stinging, itchy, red, pimply, blistery bumps. They're under your arms, behind your knees, under your breasts and between your legs. It's heat rash, also known as prickly heat.

The medical name for this condition is miliaria, and though it is most common among children, particularly infants, active adults can experience it just as well. People sick with fever who must remain in bed are also vulnerable to heat rash.

Heat rash usually occurs in hot, humid weather, conditions with which many Americans are intimately familiar. Heat rash typically appears a few days after exposure to an especially hot, humid environment. But it may not appear until weeks later.

The rash is caused by excessive perspiration, which damages cells on the surface of the skin. The damaged cells form a barrier that traps sweat beneath the skin. This moisture then builds up, causing the red, itchy bumps. When these pimple-like bumps burst and the sweat is released, it causes the stinging, prickly feeling from whence the name comes.

Heat rash usually goes away on its own in a few days. In severe cases, however, it may interfere with the body's ability to regulate heat. This can cause fever, heat exhaustion and even death.

If symptoms do not go away in a few days, or if an infection develops where bumps have burst, call a doctor. Stronger medication may be required.

The only way to prevent heat rash is to avoid situations that lead to excessive sweating. In many cities, that's easier said than done.

Treatment

Keep the affected skin cool and dry.

Stay cool in an air-conditioned room or with a fan.

Take a cool shower or bath, but don't use a towel. Let your skin air-dry.

Avoid oil-based ointments, creams or lotions as these will keep skin warm and moist, aggravating the condition.

Calamine lotion or an over-the-counter 1 percent hydrocortisone cream may be used to relieve itching.

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