Heat rash: how to spot it & what to do

Beat the heat without the discomfort of a heat rash. As temperatures rise, so does the risk of developing this common skin condition caused by sweat ducts getting blocked, resulting in red, itchy skin. Discover more about this skin issue as Bloom Financial Services uncovers insights about heat rashes, the various types, and how to treat and prevent them. Get these practical tips about how to keep your skin cool, comfortable and rash-free.

What is a heat rash?

This is a skin condition, called prickly heat or miliaria, that is triggered by blocked sweat ducts. It’s particularly common in warmer, humid climates. The heat rash occurs when your body sweats to cool yourself down. However, inflammation occurs if the sweat becomes blocked in a sweat duct. Small, red itchy red lumps will then flare up on your skin.

Individuals who are most at risk of developing a heat rash are babies, young children and people who engage in strenuous physical activity in hot and humid conditions. Babies are very susceptible to the condition because they have underdeveloped sweat ducts. Elderly people, who have reduced sweating capacity and people with pre-existing skin conditions, like eczema, are also more susceptible to heat rashes.

Several factors can contribute to the risk of developing a heart rash. These include:

  • Hot and humid weather. This poses a significant risk and is quite relevant for South Africans, as the summers are fiercely hot in many parts of the country. In these conditions, an individual’s tendency to sweat will increase. Excessive sweating increases your risk of developing a rash.
  • Tight clothing. Wearing tight clothing, especially where skin-to-skin contact occurs so that the fabric rubs against your skin, can contribute to a heat rash. This is because friction impedes the flow of sweat and increases the risk of the sweat ducts becoming clogged or blocked.
  • Intense physical activity. This could include exercise, like running or cycling, or a physically demanding job, like construction work. The physical activity will increase your body’s sweat production as it tries to cool your body down. This, in turn, increases your risk of blocked ducts and rash development.

Common misconceptions about a heat rash

There are several misconceptions about heat rashes, which should be addressed so that you can adopt effective treatment and prevention methods promptly. Some misconceptions include the following false beliefs:

  • Only babies get heat rashes. While babies and young children are more prone to rashes due to their underdeveloped sweat ducts, people of all ages can experience a heat rash.
  • Heat rash only occurs in very hot weather. Hot and humid weather is a common trigger but heat rashes can occur in various climates. Risk factors like improper clothing and intense physical activity can lead to sweat duct blockages.
  • Heat rashes are contagious. This is false. They result from individual susceptibility to certain conditions, primarily heat and humidity. A heat rash does not spread through contact with affected skin.
  • Scratching is OK. Scratching can make the rash worse, leading to even more skin irritation and possibly even an infection. Resist the urge to scratch. Use soothing remedies like cool compresses and appropriate lotions to alleviate the itchy feeling.
  • It only affects those with sensitive skin. While individuals with pre-existing skin conditions may be more prone to the problem, anyone can develop heat rashes.
  • A rash requires no special treatment. It’s not a serious condition. However, if left untreated heat rashes can cause discomfort and, in some cases, lead to an infection. Take preventive measures and address the problem promptly to avoid complications.

How to recognise a heat rash?

There are three types of heat rashes that vary in severity of symptoms and discomfort levels. These include:

  • Miliaria Crystallina. This is the most mild form of the condition. The rash occurs close to the surface of the skin.
  • Miliaria Rubra. This is a more severe form of the condition. The obstruction of the sweat occurs at a deeper skin level so symptoms may be more intense.
  • Miliaria Profunda. This is the most severe form of the rash as the blockage occurs at a deep level, leading to an intense inflammatory response.

Discover how to spot a heat rash early so you can take prompt action to alleviate the effects. Typical symptoms and characteristics of a heat rash include:

  • Small, red bumps. This is the most typical characteristic. The bumps look like clusters of small red dots. In some severe cases, the bumps may resemble papules or vesicles, which are small, fluid-filled sacs.
  • Itching. The affected area is characteristically itchy, leading to physical discomfort. The itching symptoms will grow worse in hot and humid weather or when you are sweating.
  • Location. Common areas for this type of rash are the neck, chest, groin area, armpits, elbow creases, and other skin folds.

How to treat a heat rash

You can treat a rash using some proven home remedies or with over-the-counter medication that you can get from your local pharmacist.

  1. Home remedies
  • Apply a cool compress to the affected area. This will soothe the inflammation and reduce the itching. Use a clean facecloth soaked in cold water.
  • Keep the affected area cool and dry. Avoid scratching. Use breathable fabrics, like cotton, that allow sweat to evaporate.
  • Take an oatmeal bath. If the itching is extremely severe, you can add a cup of oatmeal to lukewarm water and soak in it for 15-20 minutes. This also works well for sunburn.
  • Aloe vera gel. Use this gel to soothe the irritated area.
  1. Over-the-counter medications and ointments
  • Antihistamine creams. This will reduce the itching and inflammation. Use as instructed.
  • Topical ointments. Hydrocortisone creams, calamine lotion, cooling gels and chamomile cream can all help reduce the inflammation and stop the itching.

It’s advisable to seek medical attention should these treatments fail to provide any relief, and if your symptoms become worse. For instance, if there are signs of infection like the affected area begins to swell or if there is pus present in the bumps or sacs.

Rash prevention methods

Use some of these simple methods to reduce your risk of developing a heat rash:

  • Try to stay cool and dry in hot weather. Limit your exposure to extreme heat. Take cover in the shade, use sunscreen and breathable, loose clothing.
  • Choose the right fabrics. Some types of synthetic clothing fabrics can trap the heat. Choose materials, like cotton, that allow your sweat to evaporate easily from your body.
  • Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water to maintain hydration. This will aid in your body’s natural cooling mechanism through sweating.
  • Avoid intense physical activity if it’s too hot. Limit your time outdoors or schedule your activities so that they take place at dawn or dusk.
  • Maintain good personal hygiene. Keep your skin clean to prevent the accumulation of bacteria that can contribute to blocked sweat ducts.
  • Avoid heavy ointments or lotions in hot weather. This can contribute to clogging your sweat ducts. Opt for lightweight moisturisers during hot and humid summer months.

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