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What Is Heat Rash?

Medically Reviewed by Debra Jaliman, MD on June 16, 2022

A heat rash is a common rash on the skin that can show up when you’re hot or you sweat a lot. It can make parts of your skin feel prickly or sting due to overheating. It can itch a lot, but it’s not dangerous.

Some people call a heat rash “prickly heat.” Doctors call it miliaria crystallina or miliaria rubra.

Anyone can get a heat rash, but it's more common in babies and young children. Active people, newborns in incubators, and people on bed rest with fever also are more likely to get it.

 

 

What Causes a Heat Rash?

 

Heat rashes happen most often in humid, hot weather.

When you sweat too much, the ducts from the sweat glands in your skin become blocked.

This causes your sweat to leak into surrounding tissue, which leads to irritation and redness. You may feel the prickly sensation that gives this condition its name.

What Does a Heat Rash Look Like?

It looks like tiny bumps surrounded by red skin. It usually happens on clothed parts of your body, like your:

  • Back
  • Belly
  • Neck
  • Upper chest
  • Groin
  • Armpits

A heat rash usually gets better once your skin cools off. Most people don’t need to see their doctor about it.

But you should call your doctor if you or your child gets a heat rash with a fever, or if you think your skin is infected. Infected skin might:

  • Feel painful or warm
  • Look swollen or red
  • Leak pus or form scabs

How Long Does a Heat Rash Last?

It usually lasts about 2 to 3 days. Call your doctor if it doesn't go away after 3 or 4 days or if it seems to be getting worse.

Can a Heat Rash Spread?

Yes, it’s possible for a heat rash to spread to other parts of your body. That happens due to clogged sweat pathways.

Rashes are more likely to spread on parts of your body where your clothes are tight against your skin. That’s extra true when you sweat.

You don’t have to worry about spreading a heat rash to other people, though. It’s not contagious.

Is There a Heat Rash Treatment?

There’s no standard treatment to get rid of a heat rash. It usually gets better once your skin cools off.

You can do some things at home to get relief:

  • Move to a cooler, less humid place.
  • Take a cool shower or bath.
  • Wear fewer layers of clothes, and loosen your clothes.
  • Resist the urge to scratch your skin, or it could become infected.
  • Keep your affected skin dry.
  • Try calamine lotion, 1% hydrocortisone cream (not hydrocortisone ointment), or a prescription cream to ease your itching.

Don’t use ointments or creams that keep your skin moist. Also skip products that could clog your pores. Avoid using things like:

  • Baby powders
  • Ointments
  • Scented lotions
  • Lotions with petroleum or mineral oils

How Can You Prevent Heat Rash?

The key is to try to stay cool and avoid sweating a lot. Some tips that can help are:

  • Wear loose, lightweight clothes made of cotton.
  • Cool off with fans, cool showers, and air conditioning when you can.
  • Try to do things outdoors during times of the day when it’s cooler.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

UpToDate: “Patient education: Heat rash (prickly heat) (The Basics).”

American Academy of Dermatology: “12 Summer Skin Problems You Can Prevent.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Heat Rash/Prickly Heat.”

Familydoctor.org: “What Is Heat Rash?”

Seattle Children’s: “Heat Rash.”

CDC: "Heat Stress."

The Merck Manual Home Health Handbook: "Prickly Heat."

Ely, J. American Family Physician, March 15, 2010.

O'Connor, N. American Family Physician, January 1, 2008.

Habif, T. Clinical Dermatology, 5th ed, Mosby, 2010.

Health Direct: “Summer skin rashes."

CDC: “Heat Stress – Heat Related Illness.”

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