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Hot topic: What you need to know about heat rash

Zofishan Umair

Zofishan Umair

Zofishan is a journalist, humour columnist, and a mum who has survived nappy explosions mid-air. She has over a decade of experience writing for print and online publications and is currently working on her first book.
Created on Oct 30, 2023 · 5 mins read

Having kids gives you a unique perspective on a lot of …erm… things that you never paid much attention to. One of these things is bodily fluids like pee, spit, snot, and sweat. In all your years on earth, you may not have thought twice about them, but once that baby lands in your lap, you truly start to see, observe…. and, in some cases, even appreciate how complex our bodies are. Take, for example, sweat. These little beady drops are part of our body’s attempt to cool down and regulate temperature. It may look harmless, but if left on a t-shirt in a gym bag for too long, it changes into a stench that is strong enough to knock out a full-grown gorilla. If you’re a mum of middle-schoolers, you may know sweat all too well. It is what your five- and seven-year-olds come drenched in after a long day or a 30 minute soccer session. But perhaps, the most dangerous fact is that if sweat stays around long enough, it can develop into a heat rash. Once that happens, the days that follow are long, full of whining and complaining and scratching from kids suffering from heat rash. Here’s what you need to know about heat rash:

What does heat rash look like on a child?

The temperature isn’t the only thing that soars during the long summer days, the number of children with heat rash does too.

Heat rash in kids typically appears as a red or pink rash on the skin, with tiny blisters or bumps. The rash usually occurs in areas where sweat accumulates, such as the neck, chest, groin, and elbow creases, and is, as many kids put it, “yucky and super itchy.”

Basically, heat rash is caused by blocked sweat ducts, which can occur when a child’s sweat glands become clogged due to overheating. The sweat builds up under the skin, causing irritation and leading to the formation of a rash. This can occur in hot and humid weather or when a child is wearing heavy clothing that does not allow the skin to breathe.

Many kids get heat rash on their necks and legs and continue to scratch, despite your pleading, which just makes it worse.

Babies with heat rash

You don’t need a lot of movement to develop a rash. Some babies develop a rash from sweating during hot and humid days in the folds of their skin. Heavy moisturisers and baby oil can also cause their pores to clog and even cause heat rash on the face.

The solution: when the humid weather rolls around, ditch the oils and opt for baby powder, and air-dry clothes to prevent heat rash. A thin layer of breast milk on the rash can also help it heal faster.

How do you get rid of heat rash on kids?

If your child does develop a skin rash, here are some remedies and heat rash treatments:

1. Keep the affected area cool

Dress your child in lightweight, breathable clothing and avoid exposing the skin to hot and humid conditions.  Opt for materials like cotton, and definitely put your foot down on the nylon Batman costume they insist on wearing every day. Burn/Donate it if you have to, because textile dermatitis and heat rash are way worse than any tantrum your toddler can throw at you.

2. Avoid creams and ointments

Creams and ointments tend to clog sweat ducts and worsen the rash. Instead, use talcum powder or cornstarch and dust the affected area. This helps absorb sweat and reduce friction between the skin and clothing. Some heat treatments also give a cooling effect, which will soothe the itching—and the whining.

3. Shower

Encourage your child to take a cool bath to remove sweat and bacteria. Make sure to gently pat the area dry afterward.

4. Stop scratching

Once you start scratching, it’s very hard to stop, so encourage your child to avoid scratching or rubbing by introducing a reward system or keeping their mind preoccupied with other activities.

Why does my child keep getting heat rash?

Got a heat rash, AGAIN?

There are many reasons why your child could be more susceptible to heat rashes. Overheating and excessive sweating are two of the most common causes of heat rash, as they can clog the sweat ducts and cause irritation.

Some kids also have skin that is more sensitive to heat and prone to developing rashes, while others with certain medical conditions, such as eczema, can make them more susceptible to heat rash.

If your child continues to experience frequent episodes of heat rash, it is better to skip the DIY methods and consult a doctor for further evaluation and treatment.

What can be mistaken for heat rash?

“Umm, that’s not heat rash.” Doctors tell mums every now and then.

That’s because heat rash is easily confused with other skin conditions such as irritant dermatitis or even an allergic reaction. What appears to you as a heat rash may be another skin condition with similar symptoms, such as an insect bite. Insect bites are small, red bumps that resemble a heat rash, especially when they occur in clusters. Similarly, an allergic reaction can cause red, bumpy rashes on the skin, which can be similar in appearance to a heat rash.

Even Impetigo, which is a bacterial skin infection that can cause red sores or blisters that may be mistaken for a heat rash.

Prevention is preferable to cure

The best way to stop the itching and whining is to prevent the sweat rash from happening.

For this, when summer comes around, make sure you choose loose-fitting clothes made from breathable natural fibres, ensure the kids shower after exercise or play, and use powder or baking soda to keep the skin dry.

Heat rashes can be avoided by avoiding excessively hot and humid conditions and by adding an extra layer of talc just to be sure.

While most mild heat rashes can be treated at home and will go away in a few days. However, if a rash does not improve, develops an infection with pus, or causes severe itching, pain, swelling, or a fever, it is best to consult your pediatrician.

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