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Heat Rash - What It Is and How to Treat It

Updated on June 6, 2017
A minor case of heat rash.
A minor case of heat rash. | Source

Heat rash is a common condition suffered by many people who spend a lot of time in a hot, humid environment. As uncomfortable as it can be, it's also completely treatable.

What is Heat Rash?

Heat rash results when the sweat glands become blocked. When this happens, sweat becomes trapped behind the block, and the glands become inflamed when the immune system attempts to fight off the invaders.

The skin becomes reddened, and tiny blisters form around the blocked pores. Usually, it causes itching, but the site can become infected, at which point medical attention should be sought. Once the skin is allowed to cool, the rash will go away.

It can happen to people of all ages and shapes. However, young babies, the elderly, those with obesity, and people who do physical labor outdoors in hot weather are particularly prone. Those who have mobility issues which involve cutting off air circulation to certain parts of the body also need to watch out for this condition.

However, anyone can get it, regardless of age or body type.

You can prevent heat rash by wearing loose clothing, making sure air circulates freely, or avoiding heat and humidity entirely.

However, if you do come down with a mild case, this remedy has worked for me in the past.

Water for the compress.
Water for the compress. | Source

How to Make the Cool Compress

Ingredients:

  • A bowl
  • Cool water
  • Lavender essential oil
  • A cloth or hand towel

Step 1: Get out of the heat.

Step 2: Gently wash the area and pat dry. Never rub heat rash.

Step 3: Fill the bowl halfway full with the water.

Step 4: Mix in about 5 to 6 drops of lavender essential oil.

Step 5: Soak the cloth in the mixture then wring it out so it's not dripping.

Step 6: Lay the cloth over the effected area, and repeat when the towel gets warm.

It shouldn't take very long for the combined coolness of the water and healing properties of lavender oil to start soothing the rash.

Once you're done, you can dispose of the water however you'd like. That small amount of lavender oil won't damage the plumbing, and it shouldn't cause any harm to plant life.

Lavender Essential Oil

NOW Foods Lavender Oil, 2 ounce
NOW Foods Lavender Oil, 2 ounce

This is one of my favorite essential oil brands so far.

 

Why Lavender Oil?

Lavender oil has been used for centuries for its anti-inflammatory and painkilling qualities. When applied to the rash, it helps to bring the swelling down and blocks some of the itching.

It may also prevent infection, due to its antibiotic qualities. It may also help clear the blocks from the sweat glands, as well.

When making the solution for your compress, only use about five drops of lavender oil. Although lavender is one of the few essential oils that can be safely applied directly to the skin, you won't need much to get maximum benefit.

When shopping for your essential oil, always make sure the manufacturer lists the plant's scientific name on the bottle. Because its lovely aroma is so popular in air fresheners, avoid anything advertised as a "scent", "air freshener" or "aroma".

Those oils are either partially or completely made out of chemical ingredients which can further irritate your skin.

Be aware that although lavender oil's safe to apply to your skin, never drink it, or any essential oil. Essential oils are concentrated substances, and although it won't hurt you when applied topically, it can make you very sick if taken internally.

If you know you're allergic to lavender, you may be able to replace that oil with tea tree, as they both have similar properties.

If worried about allergy, do a spot check by dipping a corner of the cloth into the solution and dabbing it on your inner arm. Irritation will appear quickly if you have a sensitivity to it.

If the rash starts hurting, or gets worse, stop using the compress and wash the area gently.

Additionally, if you're treating a very young child, research the safety of lavender oil thoroughly for your little one's age range. Young skin tends to be more sensitive than adult skin, and children may react differently to lavender oil than older people.

Other Ways to Treat Heat Rash

While the above solution has worked for me before, it isn't for everyone. Fortunately, there are quite a few options available.

The first steps are always to get out of the heat, gently wash the area and pat it dry.

You can then apply the following light creams:

  • Calamine lotion
  • Hydrocortizone cream with a low concentration
  • Lotion containing dimethicone

Benadryl will also help eliminate any histamine reaction that may be contributing to the swelling. Although these options may do a good job of soothing the rash, if you want to avoid chemicals, they may not be the best option.

Cool baths might also be helpful. Lavender oil can be added to bathwater, but baking soda or oatmeal are also very soothing options. You'll only need about three tablespoons of baking soda or one cup of finely ground oatmeal.

Soak for a maximum of 20 minutes before rinsing yourself off and patting yourself dry.

Hanging out by the pool may be a great way to avoid heat rash.
Hanging out by the pool may be a great way to avoid heat rash. | Source

What to Avoid

Because heat rash results from blocked glands, there are some things that must be avoided in treating the symptoms.

Ice
Applying ice to your rash might help sooth some of the inflammation, but the sudden change in temperature could also make it worse. If you do decide to try it anyway, try it with these suggestions:

  • Never apply directly to the skin, instead make sure there's a layer of soft fabric between the ice and your skin.
  • Do not move the ice around on the rash. This could actually make it spread and it will worsen the condition.
  • Only apply for short periods of time to avoid giving yourself frost-nip or frostbite.

Petroleum Based Products
Many lotions on the market are made with petroleum derived products, like Vaseline. If you don't have clogging issues, these lotions and creams probably won't cause you any pain. However, because heat rash is caused by blocked pores, these products could further seal the clogs in place. Naturally, that would only make the rash worse. Make sure to read all labels before making your final purchases.

Rubbing and Rough Fabrics
Because your skin is already irritated, never apply topical remedies by rubbing them in. You should also avoid rough, synthetic fabrics, as these can further irritate the skin.

Ayurvedic Home Remedies

When to See a Doctor

Although heat rash is common, infection is possible, and you'll need to see a doctor if it gets too bad. Here are a few signs to watch out for:

  • High fever
  • Worsening of blisters
  • The swelling gets worse
  • The area starts oozing
  • If it doesn't go away after three or four days

Go to the emergency room right away if you start feeling dizzy, nauseous or experience a sudden change in consciousness. These could be signs of other problems caused by the heat, like heat exhaustion or stroke, or of an underlying problem.

When in doubt, call a nurse help hotline to get advice on what to do.

Getting heat rash is a miserable experience, but it can be easily treated and prevented. In addition to wearing loose clothing, keeping cool, and letting air circulate on as much as your skin, exercise common sense behavior in the heat. Drink plenty of water and don't push yourself beyond your limits.

Taking good care of yourself is all a part of enjoying the summer months.

Have you ever had heat rash?

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