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What is Miliaria?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 21 October 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Miliaria is a rash which is caused by blockage of the sweat glands. You may also hear it called “heat rash” or “prickly heat,” in a reference to the conditions associated with miliaria. This condition is not dangerous, but it should be avoided if possible and treated when it arises to prevent the onset of infections, some of which can be serious. It is also sometimes helpful to visit a doctor to make sure that a rash is really miliaria, rather than another condition which looks similar.

This condition is especially common in children, perhaps because their sweat glands are not fully developed, and it tends to appear in skin folds or in areas which are heavily chafed. Classic miliaria rubra, the most benign form of miliaria, can look like a series of pimples with reddish skin between them. When a patient experiences repeated episodes of miliaria, it is known as miliaria profunda, and it can lead to miliaria pustolsa, a situation where the skin is actually infected.

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Miliaria is linked with increased heat and humidity, which can lead to an increased perspiration rate. As the body perspires, the glands may become blocked, especially if someone has not bathed recently. To reduce the risk of miliaria, people should try to remain cool with the assistance of fans and air conditioning, and they should also bathe several times daily to flush the sweat glands and pores, especially after exercise. Light, comfortable clothing is also a good idea.

Once miliaria appears, the best treatment is frequent cool baths with mild soap, encouraging the development of new skin cells and reducing the risk of infection. In some cases, a steroid or antibiotic cream may be prescribed, to prevent the skin from becoming infected while it heals. Under no circumstances should oil based creams be used, as these can clog the pores even further, resulting in an infection.

People often identify miliaria by the feeling before they see the rash, as it feels distinctively itchy and prickly. If these symptoms accompany a rash in humid, warm weather, there is a very good chance that the rash is miliaria. However, it is possible to mistake shingles, staph, or impetigo for miliaria, so you may want to go to a doctor to be sure, especially if the rash spreads or does not appear to be getting better after a few days of treatment at home.

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