Prickly heat presents as tiny red bumps on the skin in defined areas. It is also caused miliaria. Prickly heat is caused by the tiny sweat glands becoming blocked by profuse sweating. It is common in people exposed to long periods of heat and can develop as the result of high fevers.
Prickly heat is itchy and uncomfortable, but does not generally pose a health risk on its own. However, one form of prickly heat, miliaria profunda, so completely blocks the sweat glands that it can significantly increase heat related illnesses such as heat exhaustion or sunstroke. Additionally, the bumps or blisters may become infected if they are scratched. This can cause more serious illnesses like blood infections, which require antibiotics for treatment. At the very least, it is clearly established that scratching prickly heat bumps, thought it might seem like a fine idea at the time, will result in more itching.
Treatment for prickly heat is most usually a recommendation of staying out of the heat when possible. Showering several times a day when exposure to heat is unavoidable can help clear sweat glands. As new skin develops, prickly heat will be relieved on its own in most cases, because the ducts eventually clear themselves.
Often, prickly heat develops on the body in areas with a high number of sweat glands, or where skin overlaps. It can be present on the groin, under the knees, in the underarms, or elsewhere. Using antiperspirant may help control prickly heat under the arms, but is not recommended for other parts of the body.
For itching, both calamine lotion and oatmeal baths may provide relief. After baths or showers, one should make sure to completely dry the skin in a gentle fashion. Standing in front of a gently blowing fan can help dry the skin without causing friction. Very simple soap or medicated soap, which will not dry or irritate the skin more, should be used sparingly.
One can also use powder after showers to reduce sweating. Talc is often recommended, but can clog the skin and may be dangerous if inhaled. A more acceptable remedy, available in most homes, is to use cornstarch, which provides the same benefits as talc without negative consequence.
Choice in clothing may also help resolve prickly heat. Fabrics that retain heat, like nylon and polyester, should be avoided. Linen and cotton clothing are the best choices. Avoid silk, as it tends to provoke more sweating.
Should prickly heat rashes get worse and fail to resolve within a few weeks, one should seek the advice of one’s doctor or a dermatologist to determine if infection is present. One should also contact a doctor if the rash seems worse and fever is present. In most cases, prickly heat will resolve within a few weeks without medical attention or intervention.