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Baby health

The Best Ways to Treat Baby Heat Rash Fast

Heat rash is very common in babies, but it can cause itchiness and discomfort. Here’s how to deal with the condition and prevent it from happening in the first place.

The Best Ways to Treat Baby Heat Rash Fast

Photo: iStock

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.

What causes baby heat rash?

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.

Baby boy napping at the beach Image taken by Mayte Torres / Getty Images

What does heat rash look like?

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.

Young adult mother finger pointing to newborn arm with red rash. Allergy from milk formula or mother milk. FotoDuets / Getty Images

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When to see a doctor

“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.

doctor checking up baby Goodboy Picture Company / Getty Images

Treatment - get out of the heat

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.

Young child sleeping in front of fan LWA / Getty Images

Treatment - provide plenty of fluids

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.

Infant baby girl drinks water from baby cup holded by her mother baloon111 / Getty Images

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Treatment - draw a bath

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.

Mother taking a bath for her baby boy with baby bathtub hxyume / Getty Images

Treatment - dry the skin before dressing

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.

Mother snuggles toddler little boy while wrapping him in towel after his bubble bath Courtney Hale / Getty Images

Treatment - dress in light clothing

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.

We love these organic cotton bodysuits that are fun to wear, economical and easy to wash with any of your best laundry detergents.

Caucasian mother dressing baby on bed JGI/Jamie Grill / Getty Images

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Treatment - skip the lotion

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.

applying topical cream to baby Kwangmoozaa / Getty Images

Treatment- avoid direct sun exposure   

Staying out of the direct sun can feel like a big ask, especially when summer rolls around.

But, if your little one is dealing with a heat rash, that sunshine isn't going to do them any favors – it could actually make things worse.

According to board-certified pediatrician Dr. Joel ‘Gator’ Warsh, “The direct sunlight can further compound the heat rash condition by elevating the skin temperature and increasing sweat production. These two results will cause more blocking on sweat ducts, increased discomfort, and the worsening of the heat rash. The sun’s heat and UV rays will irritate the fragile skin further and make it even redder, itchier, and more uncomfortable.”

That said, it doesn't mean your baby has to be cooped up indoors and miss all the fun. If you're planning to spend a lot of time outside, find a shady spot or relax under an umbrella. And for added defense, consider using sun-shielding gear like strollers that come with sun shades.

a boy holds ice to head iStock

Treatment- use air conditioning/fans 

When you're trying to tackle heat rash in babies, the main goal is to keep their skin cool so they don't overheat. Thankfully, turning on a fan or some air conditioning can really help with this.

Dr. Gator explains to Today’s Parent, “Air conditioning lowers the ambient temperature and reduces humidity, which prevents excessive sweating and keeps the skin dry. Fans improve air circulation and create a cooling effect by moving air over the skin, helping to dissipate heat and reduce skin temperature.”

mother and daughter in front of fan iStock

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Treatment- use a cool compress

Have an ice pack lying around the house? You can use it as a cold compress to help soothe baby heat rash.

Dr. Gator suggests, “To make a compress at home, soak a clean cloth in cool water, wring out excess water, and gently apply it to the affected area.

woman holding a cold compress to face iStock

Treatment- keep nails trimmed 

When your little one gets a heat rash, they might start feeling itchy and want to scratch it. However, did you know that scratching can actually make the rash worse? According to Dr. Janice Montague, a pediatrician based in New York, it’s a good idea to trim their nails to help prevent this.

She explains to Today’s Parent,“Babies often scratch when they are tired, itchy and cranky and can often scratch themselves badly with jagged nails. “Keeping them trimmed regularly can avoid this. But hold off on trimming them until your little one is around six to eight weeks old as their nails are pretty fragile initially.”

If you’re hesitant about trimming, Dr. Montague recommends using a gentle nail file made specifically for infants.

cutting baby's nails iStock

Treatment- use mittens and socks

You can also try using mittens and socks to prevent your baby from scratching heat rash, especially if their nails are too delicate to trim yet.

Dr. Montague suggests, “It’s a good idea if you’re not able to trim their nails yet. Heat rash usually isn’t itchy for babies; it just doesn’t look very nice.”

baby wearing mittens and a hat iStock

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Treatment- use a cool mist humidifier 

Using a cool mist humidifier can provide relief from heat rash in addition to air conditioning and fans.

Although it may not be as effective as taking a cold bath, the use of a humidifier can offer a soothing cooling sensation and introduce much-needed moisture into the air.

Using a cool mist humidifier can provide relief from heat rash in addition to air conditioning and fans. Although it may not be as effective as taking a cold bath, the use of a humidifier can offer a soothing cooling sensation and introduce much-needed moisture into the air.

cool mist humidifier iStock

Treatment- use fragrance-free laundry products

Did you know that something as simple as switching your laundry detergents can actually make a big difference for baby heat rash?

Dr. Gator recommends using products that are soft on the skin and free from any scents to cut down on the chance of irritating the skin or triggering allergies, which only makes the rash and sensitivity worse.

He also adds that by choosing these softer laundry options, you're essentially giving your child's skin a more calming space to recover in, which means they'll heal faster and suffer less discomfort.

laundry products iStock

Treatment- pat dry skin and do not rub

Making sure a baby's skin stays clean is super important for dealing with heat rash. But here's a tip for after bath time: try patting their skin dry with a soft towel instead of rubbing it.

Dr. Gator says that rubbing can actually make skin irritation worse, causing more friction and swelling. So, giving their skin a gentle pat down is a kinder way to go and helps avoid making the rash any worse.

Woman hand holding infant leg. Mother carefully applying medical ointment. Red dry skin allergy from milk formula or other food. Care about baby body. FotoDuets/ Getty Images

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Treatment- don’t use baby powder 

Your parents may have used baby powder to dry you after a bath. However, Dr. Gator warns against using it on baby heat rash, as It can clog pores and trap moisture, potentially worsening the rash.

Dr. Gator tells Today’s Parent, “I recommend using gentle, fragrance-free and natural products like aloe vera gel, whenever possible, which can soothe and cool the skin without causing further irritation. Opting for these alternatives helps manage heat rash more effectively and provides relief to your baby's sensitive skin.”

mother putting baby powder on child on a bed iStock

Treatment- avoid swaddling 

Swaddling may help babies sleep better, but it can also make them sweat more which makes heat rash worse, according to Dr. Montague.

She also points out that swaddling increases the chances of babies overheating, which could lead to SIDS, as infants are very sensitive to becoming too hot.

Mother swaddle her newborn baby on bed hxyume/ Getty Images

Treatment- limit time spent in carriers/strollers 

Parents should be also mindful of their babies’ time spent in carriers and strollers. Heat rash can worsen due to the lack of airflow and close contact these items provide.

To prevent this, Dr. Montague recommends checking the temperature of your seat and never leaving your baby unattended in the car for extended periods.

She also continues, “Friction will always cause the rash to worsen but gently placing them in cool clothing and in a cool car seat may help.”

baby in stroller on a wallk iStock

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The best ways to prevent heat rash

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.

Adorable red haired baby boy crawling on fresh green grass in summer park AnnaNahabed / Getty Images

Could it be eczema?

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.

Young adult mother finger applying white medical ointment on newborn bare leg. Red rash on skin. FotoDuets / Getty Images

Could it be cradle cap?

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.

seborrheic dermatitis crusts on the baby's head. child with seborrhea in the hair Olesia Kondrateva / Getty Images
This article was originally published on Nov 30, 2018

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