You might associate heat rash with babies, but hot, humid weather puts active kids at a higher risk for developing heat rash, too. Some people refer to it as prickly heat.
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When it’s hot outside, there’s a higher risk of heat rash in children who are highly active, overdressed for the weather or wearing clothes that don’t allow the skin to breathe. These can increase the amount of sweat on a child’s skin, which increases the chance for a heat rash to develop.
“Excessive sweating can cause a child’s pores, which are actually sweat gland ducts, to become blocked, and perspiration can become trapped underneath the skin,” says pediatrician Paula Sabella, MD. “This can result in irritation, redness and sometimes itchy rash, known as heat rash.”
What does a heat rash look like?
A heat rash may look like tiny bumps surrounded by red skin. Some forms of heat rash can be itchy or cause a prickly sensation, but it’s typically not painful.
In infants, the rash usually develops on the neck, armpits, elbow creases and groin. In older children, it can also occur on the chest and back. The rash doesn’t typically involve the eyes, nose, mouth, palms or soles.
“If your child develops the rash, you can expect that they will act normally,” says Dr. Sabella. “A child with a heat rash should not have fever or other signs of illness.”
These factors can contribute to heat rash:
- Hot, humid weather or environment.
- Physical activity, intense exercise, hard work or activity.
- Fabrics that do not allow sweat to evaporate from the skin.
- Overdressing a child or dressing in too heavy of fabric for the weather.
- Sleeping under too many blankets.
- Use of oils, thick creams or ointments, which can block the sweat ducts.
- Immature sweat ducts, such as in a newborn.
- Prescription medications that increase sweat gland function.
How to cool your child’s heat rash
If you suspect your child has a heat rash, you should start the cool down process right away.
- Immediately get your child out of the heat and into a cooler area.
- You may also try to cool your child off with a fan.
- Remove any extra clothing that your child may be wearing and loosen it.
- You may also use a cool, damp washcloth on the skin to remove sweat and body oils. Dry off of any excess moisture.
“There is no need to use any lotions, oils, creams or ointments on the skin, as this could further block the pores, trap moisture and make the heat rash worse,” says Dr. Sabella.
Remember to dress your child in a breathable fabric, such as cotton, which allows the air to circulate and allows the sweat to evaporate. This will keep your child’s skin cool and dry, and it will help treat and prevent heat rash. Be sure your child is drinking enough fluid to avoid dehydration, too.
Heat rash typically clears up in a few days on its own and leaves no permanent damage to the skin.
When to call a doctor
Be sure to call your pediatrician if the heat rash persists, does not improve in a few days, seems to get worse or if you see signs of infection.
Signs of infection could be in the form of:
- Fever or chills.
- Pain, swelling, redness or warmth around the affected area.
- Pus draining from the lesions.
- Blisters or scabs.
- Swollen lymph nodes in the armpit, neck or groin.
Seek medical care if your child has fever, is acting sick or has any other symptoms.