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Prickly Heat Rash

Illustration copyright 2000 by Nucleus Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.
Prickly heat (also called heat rash, sweat rash, or miliaria) is a rash of red or pink dots that
appears over an infant's head, neck, and shoulders. The dots look like tiny pimples. The rash
from prickly heat usually covers a small area and is considered a localized rash. Occasionally
the rash will cover a larger area (generalized rash).
Prickly heat is often caused when well-meaning parents dress their baby too warmly, but it
can happen to any baby in very hot weather. A baby should be dressed as lightly as an adult
who is resting. Your baby's hands and feet may feel cool to the touch. This is not uncommon
and is usually not a problem.
Current as of: October 12, 2013
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & H. Michael O'Connor, MD
- Emergency Medicine

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HealthLinkBC Home Health Topics A-Z Heat-Related Illnesses




Topic Contents
Topic Overview
Check Your Symptoms
Home Treatment
Preparing For Your Appointment
Related Information

Media Gallery

1. Nervous System

2. Pedal Edema

3. Placement of Ice Bags for Heatstroke

4. Prickly Heat Rash

Heat-Related Illnesses
British Columbia Specific Information
Too much heat can be harmful to your health. It can lead to
weakness, disorientation, exhaustion, and in severe cases, it can
lead to heat stroke. To learn more about heat-related illnesses,
see HealthLinkBC File #35 Heat-related Illness.

Topic Overview
A healthy body temperature is maintained by the nervous
system. As the body temperature increases, the body tries to
maintain its normal temperature by transferring heat. Sweating
and blood flow to the skin (thermoregulation) help us keep our
bodies cool. A heat-related illness occurs when our bodies can
no longer transfer enough heat to keep us cool.
A high body temperature (hyperthermia) can develop rapidly
in extremely hot environments, such as when a child is left in a
car in the summer heat. Hot temperatures can also build up in
small spaces where the ventilation is poor, such as attics or
boiler rooms. People working in these environments may
quickly develop hyperthermia.
High temperature caused by a fever is different from a high
body temperature caused by a heat-related illness. A fever is the
body's normal reaction to infection and other conditions, both
minor and serious. Heat-related illnesses produce a high body
temperature because the body cannot transfer heat effectively or
because external heat gain is excessive.
Heat-related illnesses include:
Heat rash (prickly heat), which occurs when the sweat ducts

to the skin become blocked or swell, causing discomfort and

Heat cramps, which occur in muscles after exercise because

sweating causes the body to lose water, salt, and minerals

Heat edema (swelling) in the legs and hands, which can
occur when you sit or stand for a long time in a hot
Heat tetany (hyperventilation and heat stress), which is

usually caused by short periods of stress in a hot

Heat syncope (fainting), which occurs from low blood

pressure when heat causes the blood vessels to expand

(dilate) and body fluids move into the legs because of
Heat exhaustion (heat prostration), which generally develops

when a person is working or exercising in hot weather and

does not drink enough liquids to replace those lost liquids.
Heatstroke (sunstroke), which occurs when the body fails to

regulate its own temperature and body temperature

continues to rise, often to 40.6 C (105 F)or
higher. Heatstroke is a medical emergency. Even with
immediate treatment, it can be life-threatening or cause
serious long-term problems.
Often, environmental and physical conditions can make it hard
to stay cool. Heat-related illness is often caused or made worse
by dehydration and fatigue. Exercising during hot weather,
working outdoors, and overdressing for the environment
increase your risk. Drinking alcohol also increases your risk of
Many medicines increase your risk of a heat-related illness.
Some medicines decrease the amount of blood pumped by the
heart (cardiac output) and limit blood flow to the skin, so your
body is less able to cool itself by sweating. Other medicines can
alter your sense of thirst or increase your body's production of
heat. If you take medicines regularly, ask your doctor for advice
about hot-weather activity and your risk of getting a heat-related
Other things that may increase your risk of a heat-related illness
Age. Babies do not lose heat quickly and they do not sweat

effectively. Older adults do not sweat easily and usually

have other health conditions that affect their ability to lose
Obesity. People who are overweight have decreased blood
flow to the skin, hold heat in because of the insulating layer
of fat tissue, and have a greater body mass to cool.
Heat waves. People who live in cities are especially

vulnerable to illness during a heat wave because heat is

trapped by tall buildings and air pollutants, especially if
there is a high level of humidity.
Chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart failure, and cancer.

These conditions change the way the body gets rid of heat.
Travel to wilderness areas or foreign countries with high

outdoor temperatures and humidity. When you go to a

different climate, your body must get used to the differences
(acclimate) to keep your body temperature in a normal
Most heat-related illnesses can be prevented by keeping the
body cool and by avoiding dehydration in hot environments.
Home treatment is usually all that is needed to treat mild heat-
related illnesses. Heat exhaustion and heatstroke need
immediate medical treatment.
Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a

Check Your Symptoms

Current as of: October 12, 2013
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency
Medicine & H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine