Prickly heat 

Introduction 

Prickly heat is an itchy rash made up of small, raised red spots 

Babies and rashes

If your baby has a rash and appears to be unwell, you should visit your GP or contact NHS 111.

Prickly heat is common in babies and doesn't 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.

Summer health

Be healthy and safe this summer, throughout heatwaves, barbecues, hay fever, stings and in the swimming pool

Prickly heat, also known as miliaria rubra, is an itchy rash of small, raised red spots that causes a stinging or prickling sensation on the skin.

Prickly heat can develop anywhere on the body, but it most commonly occurs on your face, neck, back, chest and thighs. It usually appears a few days after exposure to hot temperatures.

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 and can cause:

  • mild swelling
  • itching
  • a stinging or intense prickling sensation

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.

The symptoms of prickly heat are usually worse in areas that are covered by clothing. This is because clothing can make you sweat and sometimes causes friction (rubbing).

Who gets prickly heat?

Although anyone can get prickly heat, you are more at risk of developing it if you're in a hot climate where you sweat more than usual.

The following also increase your risk:

  • illness and immobility – long periods of time spent in bed can make you sweat more, particularly if you have warm bedding
  • wearing too much clothing, particularly in the winter
  • sitting too close to a fire or heater
  • being overweight or obese – which is more likely to lead to excessive sweating

Babies and children are also more at risk of getting prickly heat, because their sweat glands are not fully developed.

Treating prickly heat

Prickly heat is not a serious condition and rarely requires any specific treatment. The rash usually disappears after a few days.

However, there are several things you can do to ease your symptoms:

  • Avoid excessive heat and humidity – if you need to go outside, spend time in the shade or take a small fan with you. Further exposure to the heat will cause you to sweat more and may make your rash worse. Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration, especially in hot weather.
  • Wear loose cotton clothing – avoid wearing synthetic fibres, such as polyester and nylon, which trap heat easier than natural fibres.
  • Keep your skin cool – a cool bath or shower will cool you down, soothe your skin and help prevent further sweating. Staying in an air-conditioned room for a few hours a day will also provide considerable relief. You can also use a cold compress, but don't leave it on the skin for longer than 20 minutes.
  • Use calamine lotion – this is available at most pharmacies and will help soothe sore and irritated skin.
  • Try hydrocortisone cream – low-strength hydrocortisone cream is also available from pharmacies and is effective at treating very itchy and irritated areas of skin. However, avoid using it on your face and always follow the instructions.
  • Antihistamine tablets may help control itching – but consult your GP first as they are not always suitable

Read more about staying safe in the sun.

Page last reviewed: 09/04/2014

Next review due: 09/04/2016

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Comments

The 9 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Holly 1 said on 10 January 2014

I have severe prickly heat, so much so that i have it for the majority of the year. It starts from around April / May and i will continue to get it till the end of September if not longer. throughout this time i have to take strong anti histamines, i can not even go out in the sun for longer than a few minutes without wearing sun cream and being covered up. I've been put on steroids several times because of how aggressive it is, and because i get it all over my body, so creams are not practical. I've tried exfoliating, special soaps, hydrocortisone creams, and different cooling lotions, and nothing has worked. If anyone has any suggestions they would be really helpful, as i really am at the end of my tether with it. dreading it getting warmer again, i really can not cope being constantly sore and itchy for another 6 months.

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Sarah45 said on 11 July 2013

People should try regularly exfoliating their entire bodies prior and each day during exposure to the sun. It really does help unblock those sweat glands and get rid of dead skin cells.

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lindalupin said on 17 June 2013

my son is a chef and has prickly heat on his cheeks any suggestions?

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LulaP said on 28 May 2012

Hi, I've been getting heat rash on my knuckles, knees and toes on and off for about a year. it is always centred on the joints. It can come up on my hands from just doing the washing up! I went to the doctors and saw a nurse, who told me anti histamine will help reduce it, but to go back if it gets much worse. I bought a 14 pack of sainburys own brand non-drousy hayfever tablets and it still comes up but not as bad! She also told me that being on the contraceptive pill makes it more likely to come up because of the hormone levels in the body!

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tracey1611 said on 28 May 2012

i suffer with heat rash every year and the itching is just awful. usally it is my arms and hands that get it but this year it the shoulder and feet. i have used after sun with aloe vera which helps take the sting and itchyness away for short periods but the tablet i find the best is zirtek. you only take 1 pill a day but and takes a couple of days to kick in.

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happyascanbe said on 22 February 2012

Even mild sweating at home or the office causes me to get prickly heat. I don't even have to be on holiday to get it. I use 'proskin' which is a mix of olive oil and coconut oil and it takes away the itch and the rash. Well tidy!

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PRICKLYHEAT said on 22 July 2011

lloydy i no how you feel that exact thing happens to me i dont get a rash its just when i get sunburnt then it will be with me for a few days then go ive tried piriton and even aloe vera gel and that doesnt do anything!! pure pain and it gets me angry also lol

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Lloydy01 said on 10 June 2011

Can my condition be described as prickly heat as my symptoms are different to those in the topic? I've had prickly heat since the age of 14-15, i only get it when i've caught the sun a little too much and its usually around 2 days after being sun burnt. I don't sweat and i don't have a red rash apart from the obvious sun burn. the itching is unbearable and recently lasted 7 days. I can't put cream on the skin as the itching is antagonised just by touching the skin. I've taken piriteze but this has no effect. Apart from staying out of the sun and putting more sun cream on, is there any medication which can help, preferably orally?

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worriedDavid22 said on 06 September 2009

I get a sharp stinging on the top of my right shoulder blade when I sweat too much. It has been with me for over 4 years now (I am 16)

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Skin rashes in babies

Most rashes in babies are harmless and clear on their own. Find out about the common causes

Itching

Itching is a common symptom that can be caused by a number of conditions