Cooling Down Prickly Heat

by Karla Davis

Your three-month-old baby awakens from her afternoon nap. You pick her up and discover her sweat soaked hair. Upon further investigation you notice a patch of red bumps, located behind your baby’s neck and underneath the collar. What is this mysterious rash? Prickly heat.

Because blocked or swollen sweat glands produce these pimple-like bumps, prickly heat emerges wherever sweat becomes trapped. The most common areas include skin folds, around the diaper area, behind the ears, the neck, and the knees.

Among infants, prickly heat is common; particularly when temperatures rise above eighty degrees, or when an infant sweats due to a fever. Sometimes stinging and itching accompanies the rash too. But don’t despair! Prickly heat is simple to prevent and treat.

To prevent prickly heat, your baby’s skin should remain cool and dry. How do you know if your baby is too warm? Place your hand between your baby’s shoulder blades. If the skin feels hot and moist then your baby is too warm. Dress your infant in light, loose fitting clothes. Cotton fabric is preferable because it allows your baby’s skin to breathe. Usually, a pintsize version of your own outfit will suffice. So if you’re comfortable in a T-shirt and shorts, then chances are that your baby will be too. Also if your baby wears nondisposable diapers maintain a loose fit.

Other ways to prevent prickly heat include a daily bath. Use lukewarm water and avoid overusing soap. To avoid irritating your baby’s skin, use cleansers that are recommended for infants. Also, since hot, humid weather precipitates prickly heat, lower the humidity by air conditioning your baby’s environment.

If your baby appears restless or irritated due to the rash, a lukewarm oatmeal bath may provide some relief. Oatmeal soothes the skin and relieves itching. Most pharmacies stock non-oilated oatmeal bath products. As an alternative, you can add dry oatmeal to your baby’s bath. Applying calamine lotion to towel dried skin reduces itching too.

Baby powder soothes prickly heat and keeps the skin dry; but use it cautiously. If your baby inhales the powder, it can cause chemical pneumonia. To prevent inhalation, pour the powder while standing away from your baby. Use a cotton swab to apply the powder to the baby’s skin.

If prickly heat appears near the diaper area then try using zinc oxide ointment. Much like water sealant protects wood, zinc oxide protects by creating a barrier between skin and irritating substances like urine. Also, zinc oxide maintains dry skin.

A few final words of advice-avoid overusing lotions and creams on your baby’s skin. These products may contain petrolatum, which retains moisture. Remember that the idea is to maintain dry skin. In addition, lotions and creams block sweat glands, which may impede healing. Also, consult your pediatrician if your baby’s rash doesn’t improve within a few days or if your baby experiences fever, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, etc. along with the rash.

A Little About Karla

I reside in Alabama with my husband and two-year-old son. Currently, I am a
part-time pediatric pharmacist and a full-time mother. In my spare time, I
enjoy reading and freelance writing.