How to Treat Heat Rash or Prickly Heat in Babies and Toddlers

baby in summer
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Heat rash, otherwise known as prickly heat, is a skin condition that strikes babies and toddlers during the summertime or other warm weather days. You've likely seen it before, perhaps on a warm day after being out and about with your baby or toddler. You may notice a raised pink rash—like tiny little dots or pricks—on their neck, upper chest, and back hours later when you change them for bedtime.

At first, you may panic—most parents do at the sight of a rash on their little ones. But then a quick call to your doctor clears things up and puts you at ease. Heat rash is a common childhood rash that usually clears up on its own in a few days with simple at-home measures, and rarely requires medical intervention.

Still, if you are not sure if what you are dealing with is heat rash or something else, a check-in with your pediatrician is always advised. Your doctor can also give you tips for relieving the discomfort that sometimes accompanies heat rash.

Symptoms of Heat Rash or Prickly Heat

Heat rash, or prickly heat, is characterized by a slightly raised pink rash, with small, raised pink dots. Sometimes the dots may look like tiny pimples. The rash is usually quite noticeable, and sometimes takes parents by surprise. Your child will have no other symptoms, such as fever, and will generally be content. In some cases, the rash can become itchy or uncomfortable, which may make your child irritable. 

The most common signs and symptoms include:

  • A raised, pink or reddish rash in a pattern of small dots or bumps
  • In babies, the rash is most likely to occur on the neck, armpits, elbow creases, and diaper area.
  • In toddlers and older children, the rash usually occurs on the neck, chest, and back.
  • The rash rarely involves the face, palms, or soles of the feet.
  • At times, heat rash can be itchy; your child may describe it as “pins and needles” or prickly.
  • The rash tends to spread, especially if scratched.
  • For babies, the rash may include small water blisters.

Complications

Usually heat rash or prickly heat resolves on its own within a few days (usually 2–3 days) once your child’s skin is cooled and other at-home measures are taken to soothe the rash. At times—especially if the rash is extensive, your child scratches it frequently, or it becomes irritated—an infection may develop.

Signs on an infection may include the following:

  • The area of the rash becomes red, swollen, or warm to the touch.
  • Your child may complain of pain or appear to be in pain.
  • You may notice red streaks coming from the rash area.
  • You may notice pus.
  • Your child may show signs of infection, including swollen lymph nodes.
  • Your child may have a fever.

If your child shows any of these symptoms, contact your pediatrician as soon as possible.

Causes and Risk Factors

Heat rash or prickly heat occurs when your baby or toddler’s sweat glands get blocked, causing small red bumps to form around sweat glands. This is more likely if your child is too heavily dressed in warm or humid weather; if they are overheated during exercise; or if their skin is covered in creams, lotions, or ointments during heat or exercise.

There are several factors which increase your child’s chances of getting a heat rash, including:

  • Warm or humid weather: Heat rash is most likely to occur during the summertime or other warm weather days.
  • Exercise or physical exertion, especially during the heat (this is more common in older children)
  • Overdressing or overuse of layers or blankets, especially during the summer. Dress in breathable clothing during hot weather, in the car, or in other less ventilated areas.
  • Use of certain products, including ointments, creams, and lotions, which can block sweat glands. Be careful of oils or other products applied to your child’s hair (if you notice heat rash on your child’s forehead). Breastfed babies may be prone to heat rash when nipple creams such as lanolin are applied to your nipples and the rub off on your baby’s skin. Sometimes heat rash on your child’s chest is caused by menthol-type ointments applied to soothe coughing.
  • Sweat glands: Newborns are more prone to heat rash because their sweat glands are less mature than older children.
  • Moisture: In babies, heat rash or prickly heat tends to occur in areas where moisture gets trapped, such as the armpit, under the neck, and in the diaper area; wiping those areas dry periodically can help decrease the risk of heat rash.

Diagnosis

If your baby or toddler suddenly breaks out in any kind of rash, you should call your doctor. Childhood rashes are very common, and most of them are not concerning and will disappear on their own or with simple treatments.

However, some rashes, including measles or chickenpox, can be serious or contagious to others. Since heat rash resembles other childhood rashes, it can be difficult to recognize it yourself.

Depending on the symptoms you describe, your doctor may or may not need to examine your child in person. If you end up needing to bring your baby or toddler in, your doctor will likely know right away if your child is experiencing heat rash or prickly heat, and will be able to help you treat it.

What to Expect at the Doctor

Your doctor will examine your baby’s rash and take their vital signs. They will likely ask you a series of questions to ascertain the circumstances around the heat rash (i.e., the weather conditions of where you were in the past few days, what your baby or toddler was wearing, cream/ointments you may have applied).

They will then note the location and physical appearance of the rash and tell you how to treat the rash. If the rash is in an advanced state or is bothering your child, they may also prescribe prescription cream to treat it.

Your doctor will discuss what warning signs to look for in terms of further intervention, including:

  • Rash spreading and darkening in color
  • Rash becoming warm to the touch
  • Pus oozing from the rash
  • Fever over 100.4°F in your child

Treatment

The good news is that although heat rash or prickly heat can look concerning and bother your child in some instances, it’s usually very treatable—and most of the treatment methods involve at-home remedies or over-the-counter medications and treatments.

Lifestyle Changes

There are a few simple things you can do as soon as your child is diagnosed with a heat rash:

  • Move your child out of the heat.
  • Cool your child’s body with a fan or turn on air conditioning.
  • Remove any excess clothing.
  • Make sure your child is drinking enough fluids.
  • If they are wearing clothing with heavy, less breathable fabrics, change their clothing to something lighter or more breathable.
  • Wipe off any lotions, oils, creams, or moisturizes.
  • Let any moisture on your child’s body air dry.
  • Whenever possible, you should encourage your child not to scratch the rash, as that can irritate it further.

At-Home Remedies

There are some simple remedies you can try at home as you soothe your child’s heat rash and wait for it to subside. These include:

  • Keep your home cool with a fan or air conditioner.
  • Don’t have your child sleep under heavy blankets on warm nights.
  • Use cotton sheets for older children.
  • Stop using creams or oils on your baby’s skin, especially where the rash is.
  • Try cold compresses for the skin.
  • Try a cold bath without any added soap—adding some baking soda can be soothing.

Medication

Only apply over-the-counter creams or medications with guidance from your doctor. Your doctor may also prescribe a stronger anti-inflammatory cream to treat the rash. Some of the possible medicated creams doctors typically recommend include:

  • 1% hydrocortisone cream (over-the-counter)
  • Calamine lotion (over-the-counter)

A Word From Verywell

If your baby or toddler gets a case of heat rash or prickly heat, don’t despair! Remember, first of all, that heat rashes are very common for babies and toddlers. Even older children and adults get heat rashes from time to time. Heat rashes in and of themselves do not pose any immediate or long-term danger to your child, and the rash will not leave scars.

Remember, too, that if your baby got a heat rash because you overdressed them or used cream or ointments that you shouldn’t have, don’t blame yourself. Most of us don’t even know that these things can cause rashes—it’s a very common mistake. Parent guilt has no place here.

Still, if you have any concerns about your child’s heat rash, you should not hesitate to contact your doctor. In rare cases, a heat rash comes more serious or infected. That’s why it’s always important to check in with your doctor with any concerns.

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Article Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  • Heat Rash in Kids. Children’s Hospital Colorado website. Updated September 25, 2020.

  • How To Cool Down Your Child’s Heat Rash. Cleveland Clinic website. Updated June 15, 2020.