Prickly heat, also called heat rash, is a breakout of small bumps on the skin caused by overheating. Prickly heat is most common in infants, but toddlers, older children and even adults can get it as well. The condition isn’t serious and usually resolves on its own, but you can take some steps to relieve your toddler’s discomfort if you notice the bumps on his skin.
Prickly heat is made up of small clusters of pinkish bumps, and sometimes small blisters, surrounded by blotches of pink skin. Prickly heat bumps can appear red, particularly in children who have light skin. You may notice prickly heat in your toddler’s skin folds and on areas of her body where her clothing is tighter, such as on her chest and stomach, neck, crotch, buttocks and potentially her scalp or forehead if she wears hats.
Prickly heat occurs when your toddler sweats so much that his sweat glands get clogged and perspiration is trapped beneath the skin. Because prickly heat occurs when your toddler’s body is warm, it's most likely to affect him in the summer. However, prickly heat can happen in the winter if your toddler is overheated by too many layers of clothing or if he’s running a fever.
Although prickly heat doesn’t usually need any formal treatment, you can help reduce your toddler’s discomfort. Cool your toddler by loosening or removing her clothing and moving her into a breezy or shady location. Place her on a cotton towel to absorb her sweat and cool her off by placing cool, damp washcloths on her affected skin. If she seems uncomfortable, place her in a lukewarm bath with 2 tsp. baking soda for every gallon of water. Use a fan or air conditioner in her bedroom if the temperature in your region is warm in the evening, keep her nails trimmed to reduce scratching damage and avoid rubbing her with a towel or slathering ointment or cream on her. They can trap even more moisture.
More Dangerous Signs
Call your pediatrician if the rash seems worse than before, or if it doesn’t go away within a few days. Other signs that should prompt a doctor’s visit are pustules and swelling, which might be symptoms of bacterial or yeast infection. Also, although prickly heat can be a side effect of fever, a fever isn’t ever caused by prickly heat. So you must assess what’s causing your child’s fever. Call your pediatrician if your child has a fever of at least 103 degrees F.
Dress your toddler in light, loose clothing such as cotton fabrics, particularly when the weather is warm and humid. Synthetic fabrics and plastic diaper liners can make a child more susceptible to prickly heat. Keep your toddler in cool, shady areas and bring enough water to quench her thirst if you plan to go outside with her in hot weather, but try to avoid extreme temperatures. Your toddler is too warm if her skin is damp and hot.