A paediatrician and Head, Medical Services, Medical Centre, Federal College Of Education (Technical) Akoka, Lagos, Dr. Rotimi Adesanya, tells ARUKAINO UMUKORO about the effects of heat rash
What is heat rash?
Heat rash, as the name implies, is caused by heat. It is common in hot and humid climate like ours where people are more exposed to high temperatures. Heat rash also occurs in temperate regions but it is minimal. Also called prickly heat, heat rash occurs when the sweat glands or ducts on the skin are blocked and sweat produced is not able to evaporate. This result in inflammation or swelling of the skin, like red bumps; it is especially found on body areas that are covered by clothing. Heat rash is most common in babies and children.
Why are children more susceptible to heat rash?
Children are more prone to heat rash because most of their body systems are still not well mature at that stage; so they have to be given extra external protection in the sense that parents dress their babies too warmly, even in hot weather. Adults also get heat rash, but they are not as vulnerable as children to heat rash. Sweat is one of the waste products of the body and they are supposed to escape from the body from time to time, but cannot when the sweat glands are blocked. Also, one’s level of hygiene, if one does not bath regularly, could be a factor to developing heat rash.
What are the symptoms of heat rash?
The common symptoms of heat rash include small dots, especially in this part of the world where we are mostly dark in complexion or tiny pimples that sometimes look like boils on the skin, for those that are light-skinned. Also heat rash causes discomfort and itching, that is why it is called prickly heat. In children, the signs of heat rash may appear on the head, neck and shoulders and there is increased swelling and redness around the affected areas.
What would you advise, especially during this period of hot weather?
I would advise people to wear light clothing during this weather. Cotton is preferable because it allows air through. For those that can afford the luxury of air conditioning either at home or in the office, they should use it often. Those that don’t have air conditioners should ensure that their homes or offices are well ventilated so that air can flow freely. In addition, people should take plenty of fruits and water to avoid dehydration as they help to cool the body. Dehydration occurs when there is a loss of body fluids. In this case, the loss of body fluids, mostly water, is more than the amount that is taken in by the body. Frequent baths are also advised.
How do you differentiate between heat rash and measles?
They are both medical conditions, but they have different symptoms, and measles is a more severe condition than heat rash. At times, some people claim they have measles and not heat rash from self-diagnosis. But I want to state that measles are different from heat rash. We see many cases of heat rash in the hospital. The symptoms of measles are quite different from that of heat rash, such as persistent cough, boils, and redness around the mouth and so on.
Are there complications arising from heat rash?
Yes, but it is mainly cosmetic and mild. For example, scratching can irritate the rash more and may cause a secondary infection. For younger people, the rash can become infected and break into boils, but this does not happen often. When it develops into a secondary infection, doctors may prescribe antibiotics for treatment. Usually, infections, no matter how mild it is, should be treated urgently. Heat rash could also slightly disfigure a person’s skin. For children, parents should consult a doctor when the child develops fever.
Are there any risks for pregnant women?
No, there is really no risk to the unborn baby. But because pregnancy comes with a lot of hormonal activities, pregnant women should ensure that heat rash is treated urgently and try to stay in well ventilated environment. I would advise pregnant women to use rechargeable fans and portable fans due to the poor electricity supply in the country.
How is heat rash treated?
Diagnosis is usually straightforward. Because of the clinical manifestation, it does not usually require major medical attention. In our part of the world, people tend to engage in self-medication rather than visiting the hospital, but persistent heat rash may require further skin tests and proper medical treatment is advised in such severe cases, which happens on rare occasions. No amount of symptoms is too small before one consults a doctor for proper diagnosis. I would advise the public to seek medical attention when they discover any rash on their body.
Usually, heat rash can be treated by applying calamine lotion – an over-the-counter medication – on the affected areas on the body. This tackles the itching and helps to cool the body. Also, antiseptic powders can be used. On rare occasions, doctors prescribe hydrocortisone cream, a type of steroid cream which is used to reduce and treat inflammation of the skin.
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