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Health Knowledge and Encyclopedia
At your local Pearn's Pharmacy we can offer advice on most general health matters. You can also use our Health Encyclopaedia to provide you with the tools and links you need to pinpoint symptoms and get a full explanation of a suspected condition.
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Prickly heat, also known as miliaria, is an itchy rash of small, raised red spots that causes a stinging or prickling sensation on the skin.
The rash can develop anywhere on the body, but it most commonly occurs on your face, neck, back, chest and thighs.
The rash is made up of tiny spots or bumps that are surrounded by an area of red skin. The spots sometimes look like tiny blisters. They can cause mild swelling, itching and a stinging or intense prickling sensation.
Read more about the symptoms of prickly heat.
What causes prickly heat?
Prickly heat usually develops when a person sweats more than usual, such as during hot or humid weather. However, it is also possible to get prickly heat in the winter.
The condition is caused when the body's sweat glands become blocked. Excessive sweating can result in sweat becoming trapped beneath your skin. The trapped sweat causes skin irritation and the characteristic heat rash.
Read more about the causes of prickly heat.
Treating prickly heat
Prickly heat does not require any specific treatment and the rash usually disappears after a few days.
Avoiding the heat by staying in the shade and wearing loose, cotton clothing will help to ease your symptoms.
Applying calamine lotion will soothe the affected area of skin. You can also use hydrocortisone cream if your skin is particularly sore and itchy.
Read more about treating prickly heat.
Who gets prickly heat?
Anyone can get prickly heat but people who are overweight or obese are more likely to be affected. This is because they tend to sweat more than people who are slimmer.
Babies and children are also more at risk of getting prickly heat because their sweat glands are not fully developed^^ Back to top
The main symptom of prickly heat is an itchy rash that is made up of small, raised red spots.
The rash usually appears a few days after exposure to hot temperatures. Occasionally, the symptoms of prickly heat do not appear for several weeks or months.
Prickly heat rash
The prickly heat rash is made up of tiny spots or bumps that are surrounded by a patch of red skin. The spots sometimes look like tiny blisters and may cause:
The rash can affect any part of your body but it most commonly develops on your:
However, it can also sometimes occur on your:
You will usually find that the symptoms of prickly heat are worse in areas that are covered by clothing. This is because clothing can make you sweat and sometimes causes friction (rubbing).
Babies and rashes
If your baby has a rash and appears to be unwell, you should visit your GP or contact NHS Direct (0845 4647) for advice.
Prickly heat is common in babies and does not cause any serious harm. However, if you are concerned, your GP will be able to confirm the cause of your baby's rash and give appropriate treatment.
Read more about skin rashes in babies.^^ Back to top
Prickly heat occurs when the body's sweat glands become blocked. Excessive sweating can cause sweat to become trapped beneath your skin, leading to skin irritation and a red rash.
If you sweat excessively, it is easier for dead skin cells and bacteria to collect in your sweat glands.
If your sweat glands become blocked, sweat will be trapped underneath your skin in tiny swollen pockets. It will also seep into the nearby tissue and irritate your skin.
When the pockets burst and release sweat, it causes a stinging and prickling sensation (prickly heat).
You are more at risk of developing prickly heat if you're in a hot climate where you sweat more than usual.
The following also increase your risk:
Prickly heat is not a serious condition and rarely requires any specific treatment. The rash usually disappears after a few days.
However, if you have prickly heat, there are a number of things you can do to help ease your symptoms (see below).
Read more about sun safety.^^ Back to top
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