Heat Rash in Children

Diagnosing and Preventing Prickly Heat in Kids

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Although having a heat rash is common, it is likely not as common as many parents believe, who tend to call any red rash their kids have when it is hot outside a heat rash.

Learning to distinguish heat rash from other common skin rashes (see below) can be helpful so that you can properly treat and prevent this common rash.

Children running outside
 B. Blue/Taxi/Getty Images

As the name implies, heat rash is triggered in certain children when they become overheated, either because they are overdressed or because it is simply too hot outside. As they become hot and sweat, their sweat ducts become blocked and inflamed. It is most common in babies and young children.


Miliaria Rubra (Prickly Heat): Prickly heat or miliaria rubra is the most common type of heat rash, being found in 4% of newborns, and up to 30% of children at some time. In this form of heat rash, the sweat duct becomes red and inflamed and may cause a 'prickling' or stinging sensation. This type of heat rash may also cause mild itching.

The inflamed sweat ducts look like small bumps with a red halo around them and can usually be found grouped together under a child's clothing and inside the folds of his skin, such as his neck, armpits, and groin. Infants who wear a hat may also get a heat rash on their forehead and scalp.

Miliaria Crystallina: Just like prickly heat, this type of heat rash occurs when the sweat ducts become blocked and rupture. These sweat ducts are closer to the skin surface though, and don't get inflamed, leading to the classic appearance of small clear vesicles on the child's skin, without any redness or other symptoms, typically on their neck, head, or upper chest. It is most common in the first week or two of life and affects up to 10% of babies.

Miliaria Profunda: Miliaria profunda is the term that is used to describe a slightly deeper heat rash. It is usually seen in children who have recurrent heat rashes which affect the next layer down in the skin (the dermis.) The bumps with miliaria profunda often feel harder than those in a simple heat rash.

Miliaria Pustulosa (Infected Heat Rash): Miliaria pustulosa is the name that pediatricians give to a heat rash that gets infected. When an infection occurs in addition to a heat rash, the bumps may become surrounded by a red area and drain a yellowish pus (the term 'pustules' refers to these pus containing vesicles that can resemble chickenpox.) Children may also develop a fever.


Click Play to Learn All About Heat Rash

This video has been medically reviewed by Casey Gallagher, MD


Although heat rash usually goes away on its own in a few days, some children do require treatment, which can include:

  • Removing the child from the triggering environment, such as dressing in less clothing and moving inside to a cooler, air-conditioned environment. This is usually the only treatment that is needed, though the rash may linger for some time.
  • Mild-strength topical steroids, although these usually aren't needed.
  • Calamine lotion if your child seems bothered by the itching after cooling down.
  • Compresses with tepid (room temperature) to slightly cool water. Avoid very cold water as this is not helpful, and can be very uncomfortable.

Antibiotics may be needed for secondary infections as occur in miliaria pustulosa. Call your healthcare provider if you note any signs that might suggest an infection.


Most methods of preventing heat rash have the goal of not allowing your child to get overheated and include:

  • Dressing your child in weather-appropriate, loose-fitting clothing, so that they don't get overheated. The rule of thumb (that's easy to forget as parents as you want to protect your child from the elements) is to dress your child just as you would dress yourself for the weather.
  • Avoiding excessive heat and humidity when possible.
  • Avoiding occlusive ointments, including moisturizers, or oil-based products on a child's skin, which can also block the sweat ducts.

What Else Could It Be?

Folliculitis is a rash that is often confused with prickly heat. Folliculitis is a bacterial infection of the skin that appears as small yellowish vesicles and involves the hair follicles rather than the sweat glands.

Impetigo is a rash that often develops in creases and folds of skin where the skin can rub against itself. These rashes may also occur with exposure to excessive heat but are caused instead by a bacterial infection of the skin.

Other rashes can affect your children as well, such as eczema and poison ivy.

4 Sources
Verywell Health 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.
  1. Guerra, KC and Krishnamurthy, K. Millaria. StatPearls (internet).

  2. O'connor NR, Mclaughlin MR, Ham P. Newborn skin: Part I. Common rashes. Am Fam Physician. 2008;77(1):47-52.

  3. Das, S. Millaria. Merck Manual Professional Version.

  4. Cleveland Clinic. Folliculitis.

Additional Reading
  • Behrman RE. Kliegman R, Ed. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics: 17th ed. Saunders, An Imprint of Elsevier.

  • Habif TP, Ed. Clinical Dermatology: 4th ed. St. Louis. Mosby, Inc.

  • Miller, J. Miliaria. UpToDate.

By Vincent Iannelli, MD
 Vincent Iannelli, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Iannelli has cared for children for more than 20 years.