Heat Rash in Babies and Toddlers

Heat rash can be uncomfortable for your child, and that can be distressing for you as a parent too. The good news is it doesn’t usually last too long and there are ways you can help soothe your baby’s itching as well as help prevent the rash from re-appearing. Read on to learn why heat rash can happen, the symptoms of heat rash in babies and toddlers, the remedies that could be effective and when you might need to see your child’s doctor for treatment.

What Is Heat Rash?

Heat rash, sometimes also known as prickly heat, is a usually harmless, common childhood rash that can appear when excessive sweating leads to blocked sweat ducts, trapping sweat under the skin.

What Causes Heat Rash in Babies?

Heat rash is usually caused by your baby’s body producing too much sweat, leading to blocked sweat ducts. This means that instead of evaporating, the perspiration becomes trapped under the skin, leading to a rash a few days later. Heat rash can occur in adults and older children too, but babies are especially likely to get it because their bodies aren’t yet as good at regulating their temperature. Heat rash is more likely to develop when the weather is hot and humid.

What Does Heat Rash Look Like?

The main heat rash symptoms are tiny red spots, that may itch or feel ‘prickly’. Heat rash can appear anywhere on your baby’s body, including the face and chest, but you’re most likely to see it in the folds of the skin and in areas where clothing can rub, like the neck and nappy area. There are a few different types of heat rash:

  • Miliaria crystallina. This is the mildest form of heat rash, caused by blocked sweat ducts. It looks like tiny clear blisters affecting the top layer of skin.

  • Miliaria rubra. This type of heat rash occurs deeper in the skin. It’s this variety of heat rash that’s commonly referred to as ‘prickly heat’ because its symptoms include raised red bumps that may itch or feel prickly.

  • Miliaria pustulosa. This describes pus-filled blisters that can occur if the heat rash becomes inflamed and infected with bacteria.

  • Miliaria profunda. This kind of heat rash is caused by sweat seeping into the skin, creating deep, prickling red bumps.

What’s the Best Treatment or Remedy for Heat Rash?

Heat rash isn’t considered a serious condition, and it normally goes away on its own after a few days without any special treatment other than keeping your child cool. However, there are a few home remedies for heat rash you can try to help soothe the itching and keep your child comfortable:

  • Place a cool compress (for example an ice pack or cold, damp flannel, wrapped in a cloth) on the affected area

  • Give your child a cooling shower or bath

  • Cut your baby’s fingernails to minimise the risk of scratching. Encourage your toddler or older child to gently pat or tap the itching skin instead of scratching it.

  • Avoid using perfumed creams, soaps or ointments on your baby’s skin

  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist about soothing ointments or creams that might ease the heat rash symptoms, such as calamine lotion or medicines containing antihistamine.

Can You Prevent Heat Rash?

You may not be able to prevent heat rash in every case, but you can help make it less likely to occur by taking the following precautions:

  • In hot weather, dress your child in light cotton clothing

  • Use lightweight bedding and keep the temperature where your child sleeps nice and cool

  • Avoid dehydration by making sure your little one always gets plenty to drink.

When Should You See a Doctor?

Prickly heat typically goes away in just a few days without causing issues, but if the symptoms last longer or the rash seems to be getting infected, see your child’s doctor for a diagnosis and treatment advice. Signs of an infection can include:

  • Pain and swelling in the area of your child’s rash

  • Pus-filled blisters

  • Swollen glands

  • Fever.

The Bottom Line

It may be difficult seeing your baby or toddler in discomfort from heat rash, but it’s reassuring to know that it will go away soon enough and in the meantime you may be able to help soothe the itching by keeping the affected area cool, for example. Although heat rash may not always be avoided, there are some easy steps you can take to reduce the risk, so it’s worth keeping these in mind, particularly in the warmer months.

How we wrote this article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the National Health Service (NHS). You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.

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