Curing prickly heat
I am 42 years old and I work with a grassroots NGO. We do field work in villages, collecting data and monitoring our project. Since we need to visit our beneficiaries even in summer, I suffer from prickly heat, mainly on my back. Applying various powders has not helped much. As a result, my work suffers since I feel physically uncomfortable. Do tell me what I could do.
Why we get prickly heat
Prickly heat rash can develop anywhere on the body, but most commonly it occurs on the face, neck, back, chest and thighs. It usually appears a few days after exposure to hot temperatures. Prickly heat is typically associated with a tingling, stinging and prickling sensation. It might also trigger a desire to scratch constantly. Prickly heat usually develops when a person sweats more than usual, especially during hot or humid weather.
In medical terms, prickly heat is known as Miliaria rubra — a condition in which sweat glands become plugged and sweat is released into the surrounding skin.
In individuals with excessive perspiration, it becomes easier for dead skin cells and bacteria on the skin to block the sweat glands, forming a barrier and trapping sweat beneath the skin, where it builds up, causing the characteristic bumps. As the bumps burst and sweat is released, there may be a prickly or stinging sensation that gives this condition its name.
What you can do
Prickly heat actually isn’t a serious condition and rarely requires any specific treatment. The rash usually disappears after a few days. However, if the symptoms persist for more than two or three days, the following methods may be adopted for quick relief:
Avoid situations that can lead to excessive sweating. Avoid exposure to harsh sun, excessive humidity and strenuous physical activity as much as possible.
Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothes (ideally, cotton) and avoid synthetic fabrics.
Take cold water showers and baths.
Cold water, cold atmospheric conditions should be preferred. Sitting in the shade, under a fan or in an air-conditioned room will be helpful.
Avoid spicy, irritant food and alcohol.
If rashes are the only symptoms, apply any of the following and leave it on for around 15-20 minutes and wash off. This should relieve the rashes and associated symptoms.
A fine paste of any of the following may be applied locally to the affected parts and washed off after it dries completely:
Multani mitti in rose water.
Fine powder of sandalwood and khus khus grass in equal parts in rose water.
Paste of fresh neem leaves.
After washing, please remember to air dry your skin.
Himalaya’s prickly heat baby powder is quite effective in relieving as well as preventing heat rashes.
Intake of fluids will be helpful. Drinking tender coconut water, lemon juice, kokum juice, fresh fruit juice (orange, sweet lime, watermelon, sugarcane) helps to reduce the burning sensation caused by prickly heat.
Lemon juice or kokum juice (5-10 ml) should be added to 200 ml of water. A little cardamom powder may be added. Jaggery/sugar may be added, if desired.
However, if the symptoms of prickly heat are severe — the rash persists even after 4-5 days and/or there is development of infection in the affected area — the following medicaments will be helpful:
Generally, oil-based products aren’t suggested in prickly heat. However, in my personal experience I’ve seen good results with these:
A tablespoon of coconut oil mixed with half a teaspoon of turmeric powder relieves the itching instantly.
Himasagara taila/Chandanadi taila locally applied gives relief from the burning sensation.
The following internal medications will help to reduce the burning sensation:
Sarasaparilla juice concentrate (BV Pundit/SN Pandit Pharmacy) — 3 tbsp in 1 cup of cold water or milk, twice daily
Gulkand (Sandu Pharmaceuticals Ltd.) — 2 tsp twice or thrice daily
Sheetasudha (Dhootapapeshwar Ltd.) — 25 ml mixed in 200 ml water, twice or thrice daily
Sarivadyasava 2 tsp and Usheerasava 2 tsp (Baidyanath Ayurved Bhavan/Kottakkal Arya Vaidyasala/Vaidyaratnam Oushadhasala) — mixed with 4 tsp water, twice daily after meals.
Dr Srikanth is a postgraduate in Ayurveda and has been a consulting physician for the past 17 years. He is currently National Manager, Scientific Services, at The Himalaya Drug Company.