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Heat rash shows up as patches of tiny bumps in the folds of skin. It's caused by overheating, so the best way to prevent heat rash is to keep your child from getting too hot. If she does overheat, take steps to cool her down right away – for example, by taking off her clothes and giving her a tepid bath or applying cool wet cloths.
What is infant heat rash?
Heat rash is a skin condition that develops when sweat clogs pores so much that the sweat can't get out. Babies are prone to infant heat rash because they have smaller pores than adults.
Also known as prickly heat, summer rash, or miliaria, heat rash looks like patches of little bumps, or sometimes tiny blisters. The bumps may appear red, especially on light skin.
Typical locations of heat rash include:
- Back of the neck
- Where clothing fits more snugly, including the diaper area (especially where it rubs the waistline)
- Across the scalp or forehead if wearing a hat
- Folds in the skin, such as the neck, groin, armpits, elbow creases, and backs of the knees
What causes heat rash in infants and children?
Any situation where your child is sweating because he is overheated can cause heat rash, including:
- Hot, humid weather
- Being overdressed in too many layers of clothes, even in winter
- A fever
- Strenuous physical activity
Is heat rash serious for infants and children?
No, but it's a sign that your child is too warm, and overheating can lead to serious conditions such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Being too warm during sleep can also raise your baby's risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Is infant heat rash painful for my baby?
No, heat rash isn't usually painful, but an outbreak can be itchy. Some bumps may be tender to the touch. You may want to trim your child's fingernails so he doesn't scratch himself if the rash starts itching. Or use long sleeves with the little flaps that fold over his hands so your baby won't scratch himself while he sleeps.
Is heat rash contagious?
No, heat rash isn't contagious.
How should I treat my child's heat rash?
Immediately take steps to cool off your child:
- Move him into an air-conditioned room or a shady spot.
- Let him be naked, or dress him in loose, lightweight clothing.
- Fan him.
- Run cool water over his skin, give him a tepid bath, or apply cool, wet washcloths to his skin. After rinsing your child off, let his skin air-dry rather than rubbing him with a towel.
Note: Unless your child's doctor has instructed you to do so, don't use ointments or creams on the rash.
How can I prevent my baby or child from getting heat rash?
The best way to prevent heat rash is to keep your child from getting overheated.
- Check your child regularly, especially in hot weather, to see if she's a comfortable temperature. If her skin feels damp and hot, she's too warm. For tips on how to cool her off, see "How should I treat heat rash?" above.
- On a hot day, keep your child in an air-conditioned space, or look for cool, shady, or breezy places to play outside.
- Make sure your baby is well hydrated by breastfeeding or formula-feeding often. Offer your toddler or young child plenty of water to help her stay hydrated. (Don't give water to a baby younger than 6 months unless the doctor directs you to.)
- Dress your child in loose-fitting, lightweight clothing when it's warm, and don't overdress her in the winter. Natural fabrics, such as cotton, are absorbent and allow her to sweat more efficiently than most synthetics, though there are synthetics designed to keep her cool. Don't use plastic diaper covers.
- Pay attention to skin areas that tend to get moist, such as the neck, the diaper area, and other places where folds can trap sweat, urine, or drool, which can exacerbate the rash. Try to keep these areas clean and as dry as possible.
- Don't use baby powder – not only can it cause breathing problems and irritate your baby's lungs, but it also can block pores and make the skin feel warmer.
- If it's hot at night, use an air conditioner or a fan in your child's room. Direct the fan near your child but not so it's blowing directly on her. Or place it far enough away so that only a gentle breeze reaches her. You want your child to be comfortable, not chilled. (Keep cords, which are strangulation hazards, out of your child's reach.)
Should I call the doctor if my baby or child has heat rash?
It's a good idea to check with your child's doctor to make sure that the skin condition is heat rash and not something else. Definitely see your healthcare provider if:
- The rash appears to be getting worse.
- Your child is running a fever.
- The rash shows signs of infection (feels warm or is swollen, red, oozing pus, or forming scabs).
- The rash doesn't go away after three or four days.
Skin rashes can sometimes be hard to identify. Here's a visual guide to common children's rashes to help.