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How to Handle Common Summer Rashes

More time outdoors means increased exposure to heat, bugs, and other irritants that can bother your family's skin. Here's a guide to common problems, prevention tips, and fast relief.

By Jennifer Beck

Heat Rash

Caused by active sweat glands that become blocked by clothing or heavy lotions, heat rash usually appears on the neck, on the upper chest, and in skin folds, such as in the groin area, under the breasts, or in elbow creases.

Spot it: The small clusters of red bumps or blisters may sting or be filled with pus. Only the area that was initially irritated will show symptoms; heat rash will not spread.

Treat it: Cool the affected area, dry the skin, and let it be exposed to air. Heat rash usually goes away on its own within a day or two, but a hydrocortisone cream can help alleviate any discomfort in the meantime.

Prevent it: When it's hot out, try to keep your skin dry, and avoid tight-fitting clothing. Wear breathable, natural fabrics, and stay away from heavy lotions or creams.

Tinea Versicolor

Everyone has yeast within the skin on their face, neck, chest and back. In the summer, sweating can facilitate overgrowths of this particular yeast, causing a rash to occur.

Spot it: This appears as brown or white patches that grow slowly, usually on the chest or back, and prevent skin from tanning or burning after sun exposure. Mild itching may also occur.

Treat it: Stay out of the sun until patches clear up on their own, which could take several days or weeks, or risk uneven skin tones.

Prevent it: Keep your skin dry and clean, and avoid heavy lotions. If you're prone to tinea versicolor, use an antifungal shampoo or cream to prevent recurrences.

Swimmer's Itch

Swimming in contaminated water can expose skin to parasites, often from bird droppings.

Spot it: A red, patchy, itchy rash with pinpoint marks develops within 48 hours. Subsequent exposure can bring on a more severe reaction, and blisters may develop.

Treat it: The rash will go away on its own, but symptoms can last for a week. Ease discomfort with calamine lotion, hydrocortisone creams, or antihistamines.

Prevent it: Though the rash can occur after swimming in any natural body of water, it is less common in the ocean and running water. Avoid lakes with large bird populations or stagnant shallows, especially after a warm or dry spell. Rinsing off after a swim can help too.

Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac

Most prevalent where woods meet grassy areas, these plants can be found anywhere—even in a city—so keep your eyes open for clusters of three-pointed leaves (ivy and oak) or seven to 13 leaflets that grow as rows of paired leaves with one at the end (sumac).

Spot it: Any part of the body that comes in contact with the plant's oil may get red and itchy and develop swelling, sometimes followed by blisters. You may not break out all at once; symptoms could actually worsen as many as five days later.

Treat it: While the rash should go away on its own within one to two weeks, you can ease the itching with calamine lotion and an antihistamine. See your doctor if your rash is severe or your eyes, face, or genitals are affected.

Prevent it: The oil from these plants is most potent for 30 to 60 minutes after contact, so carefully remove and wash your clothing, and rinse exposed skin with soap and water.

Polymorphic Light Eruption (PMLE)

Often mistaken for sun poisoning, PMLE is a reaction that light-sensitive individuals, usually those prone to sunburn, have after their first few exposures to sunlight each year.

Spot it: Tiny red pimples or blisters, the size of goose bumps, appear on the skin up to a day after sun exposure. The inflammation occurs most often on the chest and neck.

Treat it: This usually goes away on its own within 7 to 10 days. Use a hydrocortisone cream or antihistamine to alleviate any itching or discomfort.

Prevent it: Gradually increase your body's exposure to the sun during the spring months to get used to the sun's intense rays. Wearing sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher, staying in shaded areas, and wearing protective clothing also helps.

Mosquito Bite

You can get a bite anywhere, but mosquitoes are most attracted to exposed areas of skin that are warm and moist.

Spot it: Within 24 to 48 hours you'll experience redness, swelling, and a small bump the size of a fingertip.

Treat it: Most people will get relief by using hydrocortisone cream or taking an antihistamine. If that doesn't alleviate symptoms or you are having a hypersensitivity reaction, a doctor can prescribe a more powerful hydrocortisone cream.

Prevent it: If you'll be outside, use a bug repellent containing DEET. Apply it just once a day to avoid toxic buildup of the chemicals on your skin. You can become accustomed to the mosquitoes in your area and less sensitive to their bite. Your body may react more strongly to mosquitoes in different regions, so be sure to pack insect repellent for any trip.

Bee Sting

Bees are most active during the day's hottest hours.

Spot it: You'll feel a sting as soon as it happens. In addition to dime-size local swelling, bee venom causes itching or stinging sensations, which last 15 to 20 minutes.

Treat it: Immediately apply ice wrapped in a towel for 10 to 20 minutes to ease discomfort. Hydrocortisone cream and calamine lotion can relieve itching. Call 911 if you develop symptoms such as troubled or rapid breathing; swelling of the arm or lips; feeling or looking flushed; or hives.

Prevent it: Avoid bright clothing and fragrances, and try to keep your skin covered. Most bees don't sting people unless aggravated, so don't panic if you see one; just try to avoid it.

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