Health matters: August


IT IS one of the commonest conditions encountered by pharmacists and their staff yet prickly heat (or Miliaria) often requires clarification by health professionals.

The condition gives rise to a stinging or prickly sensation with an accompanying rash. The rash may develop anywhere although the face, neck, chest and thighs are typical sites.

The rash comprises tiny spots or bumps which are surrounded by red skin. The spots typically resemble tiny blisters leading to swelling, itching and a prickling sensation.


It usually occurs through sweating in hot or humid conditions although I have seen prickly heat in winter months. Excessive sweating makes it easier for dead skin cells and bacteria to collect in your sweat glands.

When these glands become blocked, sweat may lodge under the skin in tiny swollen pockets. These tiny pockets will often burst and release the sweat, causing a stinging, prickling sensation.

Risk Factors

You are more likely to encounter prickly heat in hot climates. In addition:

  • Illness and immobility, long periods in bed, particularly warm bedding can make sweating more likely.
  • Wearing excessive clothing, especially in winter
  • Sitting too close to a fire or heater.


Prickly heat is not a serious condition, rarely requiring specific treatments as the rash will usually go after a few days. The following measures however will ease symptoms:

  • Avoid excessive heat and humidity. If you need to go out in the heat try and spend time in the shade or take a small fan. When a rash develops continued exposure to heat will cause further sweating and make the rash and itching worse.
  • Wear loose cotton clothing. Avoid wearing synthetic fibres such as polyester or nylon as such material traps heat more readily than natural fibres.
  • Keep your skin cool by taking cool baths or showers which help to soothe skin and prevent further sweating. Staying in an air conditioned environment for a few hours each day will also offer relief.
  • Calamine lotion may be traditional but soothes sore and irritated skin which calms the discomfort from prickly heat.
  • Hydrocortisone cream – When prickly heat is particularly sore and itchy, low strength hydrocortisone cream, available from your pharmacy, may prove beneficial. Hydrocortisone cream should never be applied to the face and I would always recommend you consult with your pharmacist as to its suitability.
  • I have read reports about how moisturisers containing lanolin may help to prevent blockage of the sweat ducts. If you are prone to developing prickly heat, then it may well be worth a try. I would recommend applying some to your skin before activities which make you sweat or on arrival in a hot climate.

Good luck!

Next time: cystitis, its causes, symptoms and treatments.  

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