Intel

Here's how you get prickly heat (and you avoid it)


Photo: Sgt. 1st Class Michel Sauret/US Army

As if death runs, clueless commanders, and having no place to sleep weren't enough, "prickly heat" intensifies all the discomforts of the field and takes it up a few notches.

Also read: 7 first-world problems only Post-9/11 troops will understand

Prickly heat is that very annoying rash that develops when you're out in the field for days or weeks without taking a shower. The sweat glands become blocked when you sweat profusely and don't allow the sweat to evaporate. The blockage occurs:

  • In areas between skin creases like the neck, armpits, and groin where skin touches adjacent skin preventing sweat to evaporate.
  • By wearing tight clothing.
  • By bundling up with heavy clothing or sheets that make it difficult for air to circulate. Yes, you can also get prickly heat in the Winter.
  • By using heavy creams that block skin pores.

It feels like pins and needles on the surface of the skin that only get worse when you relieve yourself by scratching. Prickly heat is actually the second level of heat rash. Heat rash levels are:

  1. Clear (miliaria crystalline): this type of heat rash looks like small, clear beads of sweat on the skin. This is the mildest version of heat rash and doesn't produce many uncomfortable symptoms.
  2. Red (miliaria rubra): this is the most common type of heat rash and it's the one known as prickly heat because of it's intense itching and burning.
  3. White/Yellow (miliaria pustulosa): when prickly heat turns white or yellow it's the first sign of skin infection and you should see the doc.
  4. Deep (miliaria profunda) this level of heat rash produces large, firm bumps on the skin. The sweat glands become chronically inflamed and cause damage to deep layers of the skin.

Luckily, preventing prickly heat is easy by maintaining good hygiene and keeping the skin cool and dry. This is easier said than done without the amenities of first-world living. In the field, this means trying not to sleep in your sweaty, dirty uniform and using baby wipes to keep yourself somewhat clean.

But in case you do get prickly heat, you can also treat it with calamine lotion and hydrocortisone creams and sprays, according to MedecineNet.com. Just make sure you pack it in your ruck.

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