Heat rash, also known as miliaria, sweat rash, or prickly heat, can appear anywhere on the body. It often presents as a red rash, or small red bumps that look like beads of sweat or acne. People may experience uncomfortable, itchy, burning, or prickly sensations.
Heat rash happens when sweat cannot escape from the sweat ducts to the surface of the skin. This blocks the pores and causes an inflammatory response from the body in the form of a rash.
Heat rash can happen for various reasons, including:
- being in a hot, humid environment
- wearing tight, synthetic clothing
- long lasting bed rest
- intense exercise
Heat rash is common in newborns and affects up to 9% of all babies. This is because their sweat glands are still developing.
Heat rash can clear up by itself in a few days, but there are also treatments people can do at home to help relieve itching and cool the skin.
1. Use a cold compress
Applying a cold compress can help cool the skin down.
One of the best ways to relieve heat rash is to cool the skin down.
People can apply a cold compress, such as an ice pack or cold cloth, to the area of skin to reduce redness, itching, and swelling.
If using an ice pack, make sure to wrap the ice pack in something, such as a towel, to protect the skin (never apply an unwrapped ice pack directly to the skin).
Do not leave ice on for extended periods. A good rule of thumb would be to keep the ice pack in place for 5–10 minutes, remove for the same amount of time, reapply, and continue to repeat the process.
2. Take a cool bath or shower
Taking a cool bath or shower cools the skin and can help to soothe itchy skin. Using a gentle exfoliant on the skin may help to unblock the pores.
3. Use fans or air conditioning
Fans and air conditioning can help to keep temperatures low indoors and help the body stay cool. This is especially important for anyone on bed rest. Make sure to move anyone who is immobile regularly to ensure all parts of their body are getting cool air.
When exercising in hot climates, make sure there is air conditioning indoors. When outdoors, choose to exercise during cooler parts of the day or in the shade to reduce excess sweating.
4. Wear loose cotton clothing
Wearing loose clothing allows air to circulate around the body, keeping it cool. Wearing lightweight, breathable clothing, such as cotton or natural fabrics, rather than synthetic, might also help.
5. Apply calamine lotion
Using calamine lotion can help to relieve itching. However, it can be very drying on the skin, so it might be a good idea to use a moisturizer alongside it to prevent further irritation to the skin.
The National Health Service in the United Kingdom report that calamine lotion may help with heat rash.
6. Try an oatmeal bath
The antioxidant properties of oats may help people with certain skin conditions.
Oatmeal is effective in treating many skin issue. Oats contain avenanthramides, which have antioxidant properties.
These compounds give oatmeal its anti-inflammatory and anti-itch properties.
A person can soak in a colloidal oatmeal bath to soothe their skin. To do this, add oatmeal to a warm bath and soak. Oatmeal also cleanses the skin.
7. Take an antihistamine
Taking an over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamine tablet can help to relieve the itching and any swelling of heat rash. Oral antihistamines, such as hydroxyzine and diphenhydramine, can help to relieve itching. Some types can cause drowsiness, so it may be best to use them at night.
8. Use hydrocortisone cream
Using an OTC hydrocortisone cream can help to relieve the itching and discomfort from heat rash. Applying the cream 1–2 times daily can help reduce the rash in children. If people are treating babies with heat rash, do not use hydrocortisone cream under their diaper.
9. Bathe in baking soda
Adding baking soda to a bath may help soothe irritated skin. A 2004 study looked at the effects of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) on 31 people with mild to moderate psoriasis. Those that bathed in a baking soda bath reported improvements in skin itching and irritation.
However, a 2019 study on 30 people found that applying baking soda topically to areas of psoriasis was not effective. Scientists need to do further research into the benefits of baking soda for easing skin irritation.
10. Apply aloe vera
Aloe vera has many medicinal properties, and the gel has strong anti-inflammatory effects. People may find that applying aloe vera gel onto heat rash can help to ease the irritated skin.
11. Apply sandalwood
A 2017 study on rats found that sandalwood had analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. These properties may help relieve some of the uncomfortable symptoms of heat rash.
People can try mixing sandalwood powder with water to form a paste and apply this to the area of heat rash. People should first test the paste on another area of skin, to make sure they do not have an allergic reaction.
12. Try pine tar
Pine tar has anti-inflammatory properties that can help treat itchy or irritating skin conditions. Applying a topical treatment that contains pine tar may help to relieve the itching of heat rash.
People can find most of the remedies discussed in this article in drug stores or supermarkets. Otherwise, people can choose between a range of brands online:
When to see a doctor
If a rash lasts longer than a week, it is important to speak to a doctor.
People should see their doctor if they notice any of the following symptoms:
- the rash is all over the body
- a fever
- the rash blisters
- the rash produces yellow or green fluid
- a crusty or bleeding rash
- the rash appears suddenly and spreads quickly
If a child has a heat rash, they should see their doctor if they have:
- a heat rash does not go away after 7 days
- a fever
- an aching body
- a sore throat or other signs of illness
If people have a rash and have difficulty breathing, they should seek emergency medical help, as they may be experiencing anaphylactic shock, which is a severe allergic reaction.
Heat rash can be a warning sign that the body is getting too much heat. If a person is outdoors, they can move out of direct sunlight and wear loose clothing to keep cool. If people are indoors, keeping the room well ventilated with fans or air conditioning can help keep the body cool.
Heat rash usually clears up within a day or two, and people may find relief from the itching and burning sensation by trying the home remedies above. If heat rash does not clear up within 7 days, or if people notice other symptoms, they should see their doctor.
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