Heat Bumps: Your Summer Survival Guide

heat bump rash on the neck

Heat bumps can sneak up on us and hang around for days. Luckily, we can identify, treat, and prevent them.

Summertime means sunshine, sand, and surf, but we tend to forget it also means sweat and sunburn. While we are jam-packing our summers with outdoor fun, we have to be cognizant of the sly dangers of the season.

Extreme heat and sun exposure can have jarring repercussions. Heatstroke, heat exhaustion, and sunburn lurk around our beaches and pools waiting to ruin a carefree day. We know to reapply our SPF before we burn, but did you know your skin can suffer in other ways?

Keep reading to find out how you can prevent and treat heat bumps all summer long.


What Are Heat Bumps?

Maybe you have heard them referred to as heat bumps or heat rash or even by their scientific name miliaria. Heat bumps are a condition caused by blocked sweat ducts.

Our bodies sweat as a cooling response to high temperatures. We rely on our sweat glands to release water onto our skin to bring our body temperatures down.

However, when our glands get clogged, our sweat gets trapped under our skin. Trapped perspiration can manifest as bumps on our skin, which is why we call them heat bumps.

Heat bumps are most commonly found in the areas where the sweat glands are most easily clogged such as the skin folds around the neck, shoulders, armpits, elbow creases, and groin. While anyone can experience heat rash, the Mayo Clinic explains that certain conditions can put an individual at higher risk such as:

1. Living in hot, humid climates
2. Performing intense physical activity outside
3. Prolonged bed rest
4. Immature sweat glands such as those found in newborns


Heat bumps are usually a result of sweating too much in the sun. However, newborns and patients on bedrest experience them frequently as well.

Newborns sweat ducts are more likely to rupture as they are learning how to regulate their body temperature. Even being dressed too warmly or spending too much time under hot blankets can trigger heat rash.

The Bigger Issue

While heat bumps themselves are relatively harmless by themselves, they can also be a signal of a bigger issue. Dr. Rajani Katta, a dermatologist and clinical assistant professor at Baylor’s College of Medicine, warns that heat rash is often the first sign of a more serious condition such as heat stroke or heat exhaustion. If you notice heat bumps developing on your skin, it is imperative that you get somewhere to cool down before harsher symptoms set in.

How Do You Identify Heat Bumps?

Medical providers do not need a test to diagnose heat bumps, they can identify them on sight and you can too! Heat bumps characteristically involve pink, white, or clear bumps or blisters on the skin. However, the appearance of heat bumps can change based on how deeply the sweat gland is clogged. The best way to identify heat rash is to understand the different types and how they respectively appear.

Miliaria Crystallina: Miliaria crystallina is the faint form of heat rash. The clogged sweat ducts are affected the top layer of skin resulting in clear, fluid-filled blisters that easily rupture. The bumps often look like beads of sweat or tiny pink pimples.

Miliaria Rubra: Miliaria rubra is often referred to as “prickly heat” and is the next stage of heat rash. You can identify malaria rubra by its signature red bumps and itching and prickling sensations.

Miliaria Pustulosa: Miliaria pustulosa occurs when the bumps of miliaria rubra become inflamed and fill with pus. The experts at Baylor’s College of Medicine explain that this form of heat rash is most commonly confused with acne.

Miliaria Profunda: Miliaria profunda is less common but also the most severe stage of heat rash. Miliaria profunda occurs when the sweat glands are deeply clogged down to the dermis layer of the skin. Since the sweat cannot be released through the gland, it leaks out into the skin and results in skin-colored lesions.


Heat Bumps or Something Else?

It can be a challenge to differentiate heat rash from similar skin conditions such as poison ivy or acne. In fact, heat rash is often described as looking like acne. Excessive sweating can also cause a skin condition called acne mechanica or “sweat pimples”. While the two conditions look and act very similarly, the good news is that they are treated similarly as well. Both heat rash and sweat pimples can be alleviated by avoiding excessive sweating, washing your skin with gentle, antibacterial cleansers, using products specifically designed to not clog your pores, and wearing loose clothing.

One of the most commonly asked questions regarding heat bumps is – do they itch? Yes and no. Mild cases of heat rash such as miliaria crystallina are usually not painful and instead are more temporarily uncomfortable. However, more severe cases of miliaria rubra gained its nickname “prickly heat” from the often intensely itchy or deep prickling sensation patients can experience.

How Do You Treat Heat Bumps?

The good news is heat bumps are often more annoying than dangerous. Most cases do not require a visit to your doctor. Heat rash usually clears on its own once the skin cools down and sweating ceases. If you notice that you are developing heat bumps, the best course of action is to get out of the heat and into a cool area or apply a cold compress to the skin. Over the next few days, the Mayo Clinic suggests that you try to prevent yourself from sweating and continue to gently cleanse the skin. You could also utilize calamine lotion to soothe itching or topical anhydrous lanolin to prevent blocked sweat glands.

While heat rash can often be cured at home, in certain cases you may want to consult with your physician. For example, if your heat rash does not clear up after a few days, you notice the rash is worsening or spreading, or there are signs of infection such as swollen lymph nodes, pus, fever, or chills it is time to call your doctor. They can provide topical steroids and other medication to alleviate pain and clear up your heat rash.


The Takeaway

The best way to avoid heat bumps is to prevent yourself from overheating. Be wary not to wear excessive layers that would cause you to overheat. Opt for light, loose clothing that won’t chafe against and inflame your skin. Limit your time in the heat both during the day and when you are sleeping at night. After exfoliating in the shower to prevent blockages, let your skin completely air dry. Finally, use non-comedogenic, or non-pore-blocking, products on your skin and avoid any creams or serums that have petroleum or mineral oil in them. These ingredients have been known to clog pores!

Now that you know the science behind heat bumps, you are ready to dive into summer. Remember to stay cool, stay clean, and stay diligent about keeping your friends and family safe. Stock your bag with water, sunscreen, and fans to keep yourself cool at the pool and out of the doctor’s office.


Baylor College of Medicine. (n.d.). Don’t sweat the heat rash. Baylor College of Medicine. https://www.bcm.edu/news/dont-sweat-the-heat-rash

Ludlam, K. (2018, August 13). Heat rash: Pictures, remedies, and more. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/heat-rash-pictures-remedies.

Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2020, March 3). Heat rash. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heat-rash/symptoms-causes/syc-20373276

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