When Michele Ramien’s son was a year old, her family travelled to the Dominican Republic for a little rest and relaxation. As a dermatologist, Ramien was hypervigilant about protecting her baby’s delicate skin from the sun’s rays, so she slathered him in the thickest, best sunscreen for kids.
Unfortunately, it turned out to be too much of a good thing. “He developed a heat rash on the first day, and we ended up having to stay out of the heat for most of the vacation,” says Ramien.
Ramien, who is also a clinical associate professor at the Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary, says that while staying indoors was also good sun protection, it wasn’t really what she had planned for their tropical holiday. But heat rash is extremely common in babies, and anything that prevents the skin from breathing—from being exposed to excessive heat and humidity to overdressing and being swaddled in too many layers to applying too much cream—can cause the condition.
Although older kids and adults can get heat rash (also known as miliaria), Ramien says it’s most common in newborns because their sweat glands aren’t fully mature. Hot, humid weather aggravates the condition.Image taken by Mayte Torres / Getty Images
Parents often worry when they encounter heat rash for the first time because it can look quite red and pimply if the sweat glands are completely blocked, but it can also be mild and present in clear little bumps.
“It can look like small droplets of sweat are stuck under the skin,” says Julia Orkin, a paediatrician at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto and chair of the Canadian Paediatric Society's Community Paediatrics Committee.“These bumps usually appear in areas where infants sweat the most, like the forehead, neck, shoulders and chest.”
You can tell a heat rash from other skin conditions because it’s always related to heat or sweating, adds Ramien. Often, a rash is the only symptom, but if your baby has prickly heat (a common type of heat rash), the skin may also be red and itchy because the blockage is deeper in the sweat glands and the skin around the pores is more irritated.
Blocked sweat glands may also be part of the problem, though they're so tiny that you wouldn't notice them till the symptoms of heat rash begin to appear.FotoDuets / Getty Images
“A heat rash is a relatively benign condition that should never make a baby unwell,” says Ramien. In rare cases, though, it may develop into a more serious bacterial infection. You should see a doctor if your baby is in pain, develops a fever or has any discharge from the bumps.
In most cases, you can treat heat rash at home and it will clear up within a couple of days. If it hasn’t cleared up or if you’re concerned about it, check with your doctor.Goodboy Picture Company / Getty Images
Heat and humidity can cause and exacerbate heat rash, so turn the temperature down a notch or two or put your baby in a room with a fan or air conditioning to help cool off.
One of the most important parts of treating heat rash, especially in babies, is to make sure they don't continue to sweat. The easiest way to do that is to lower the temperature of your home far enough that an infant no longer feels the heat. Remember that babies are far more sensitive to temperature changes than adults are, so keep an eye on your child to make sure they aren't getting too cold.LWA / Getty Images
When your baby has heat rash, one of the best things for them is to provide plenty of fluids. For infants under six months, breast milk or formula is perfect, while water is best for any older babies. Without proper hydration, the body's cooling mechanisms cannot work properly.
Plus, excess sweating often occurs before heat rash strikes as the body tries to cool itself down, which leads to dehydration. Offer small amounts of fluids over time so you don't overwhelm your child's stomach.baloon111 / Getty Images
Give your baby a lukewarm bath. It should be "cooling" but still be comfortable for your child. Ramien recommends skipping the soap and just using water to avoid blocking pores any further. Let your baby air-dry instead of rubbing skin with a towel.hxyume / Getty Images
Always dry the skin completely before dressing your baby if they have heat rash. Moisture trapped against the skin can further irritate the rash and cause even more discomfort. The best way to dry the skin is to wash the skin with cool water and then dab it dry with a soft towel.
Your child may find it more comfortable to air dry near a fan or air conditioner.Courtney Hale / Getty Images
If possible, let your baby go au naturel for a while and wear light, loose-fitting clothing. “Natural fibres, such as cotton and hemp, are generally lightest and most breathable,” says Ramien.JGI/Jamie Grill / Getty Images
Although it might be tempting to apply a soothing lotion to your baby’s skin, it’s best to resist the urge. Cool compresses and cool baths can help relieve the itchiness associated with prickly heat, but it’s a good idea to check with your doctor before applying any creams and lotions to the affected areas.
Stores and pharmacies are full of topical treatments that promise to help with heat rash. If your doctor says a gentle topical cream is ok, natural choices like oatmeal-based creams and aloe vera gel are some of the safest and most effective options for fighting inflammation while providing relief.
Calamine lotions, zinc oxide creams, and hydrocortisone creams are also available, but are far stronger and cause adverse reactions, so steer clear unless specifically prescribed.
We like this organic, affordable and cooling aloe vera gel.Kwangmoozaa / Getty Images
Heat rash can be extremely uncomfortable for your baby and often takes several days to improve. The best way to keep your kiddo happy and healthy is to prevent heat rash before it can occur. Always dress them in weather-appropriate clothes, such as light, loose-fitting pieces for those hotter days.
In fact, everyone in the family should wear loose clothes when the weather feels especially warm.
While it is not always possible, try to avoid high heat and humidity. Additionally, don't use products that might block your baby's sweat ducts, such as oil-based products or ointments like moisturizers.AnnaNahabed / Getty Images
For everyone who is not a professional dermatologist, it can be a bit difficult to differentiate between two types of rashes. Many people mistakenly assume a rash is just a case of heat rash when it is actually eczema, a chronic condition that needs ongoing treatment. It can be present in both cool and hot weather.
In general, heat rash in infants tends to affect the neck, shoulders, and chest. Eczema can appear anywhere but often develops behind the knees, within the elbow folds, on the hands or on the head. Visit a physician if you think your child's rash may be eczema.FotoDuets / Getty Images
Seborrheic dermatitis, known by most people as "cradle cap," affects millions of children. As its name implies, this rash primarily affects the scalp, though it may appear on the neck, ears, and face. Cradle cap can look extremely similar to heat rash and eczema, especially early in its development.
However, this condition almost always appears within the first month after birth and does not tend to itch. It also has greasy scales rather than the small, red bumps that form with heat rash. Cradle cap in kids and babies responds well to treatments, often improving within several weeks.Olesia Kondrateva / Getty Images
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