Don’t let common summer rashes get you down — here’s how to prevent them and when to see a doctor

Skin rashes in summer are common — here’s how to prevent them and when to see a doctor.

Summer rashes and how to prevent them

Itchy rashes, bug bites and sunburn can put a damper on summer fun. Summer rashes range from mild to severe, and last from a few days to a few weeks. Most of these are easily treated at home or in an immediate care center or clinic, but if left untreated, you could be at risk for something more serious.

The best way to handle a rash is by preventing it in the first place. That’s not always possible, so here are the top summer rashes and what to do about them.

What does summer rash look like?

“There are different kinds of summer rash, but they all have similar symptoms of redness, itching, blisters or bumps,” said Mary Rademaker, Mary Rademaker, M.D., medical director for Norton Immediate Care Centers. “Rashes such as these are common in the summer as temperatures climb, people get active outdoors more and humidity rises.”

Poison ivy

Poison ivy, and its siblings poison oak and poison sumac, are caused by an oily substance on the leaves that triggers allergic reactions. Poison ivy is the most common. Poison sumac is considered one of the most toxic plants in the country, but it is relatively rare. You get a poison ivy rash by brushing up against the leaves or by touching something that has brushed against the leaves, such as pet fur.

Rashes from poison ivy and the like can range from mild to severe. In lighter-skinned people, the rash will appear red. Itching, swelling and small blisters are also symptoms. It may be more difficult to see redness on darker-skinned people.  

Heat rash

Also called prickly heat, this condition occurs in hot, humid weather. The rash might look like very small red bumps or one large lump that feels prickly or itchy. It is caused by folds of skin rubbing together such as in the armpits, elbow creases or under the breasts.

“When blocked pores trap sweat under the skin, a rash can happen,” Dr. Rademaker said.

Physical activity in a warm environment, tight or restrictive clothing, and bandages on the skin can contribute to heat rash.

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Most people are familiar with this one — damage caused to the skin by exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Sunburn appears within a few hours of sun exposure. In fair-skinned people, it can be easier to see pink or red patches. In darker skin, it can be harder to see. Sunburned skin feels hot and painful to the touch. Depending on the severity of the burn, there can be swelling or blistering. In very severe cases, you may feel nauseated or dizzy, or have a headache. Sunburn can occur year-round on any exposed area of skin, but is most common on the neck, shoulders, face, head and ears.

Sun rash

Not to be confused with the above sunburn, sun rash is a sensitivity to ultraviolet (UV) light. While a sunburn tends to be more uniformly pink or red, sun rash is blotchy and bumpy, and typically very itchy.

Bug bites in summer

Besides rashes, you may encounter insect bites and tick bites. Sometimes insect bites can become very swollen, itchy or painful. Ticks like grassy and wooded areas, but they can live in yards and neighborhoods. If a bull’s-eye-like rash develops around the tick bite, you may have the beginning stages of Lyme disease.

How to prevent summer rashes

Sun-related rashes are easily preventable.

“It’s extremely important to wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen,” Rachel said.

Quality sunscreen offers protection from both ultraviolet A and ultraviolent B rays.

“Besides sunburn and sun rash, sunscreen prevents premature aging and reduces skin cancer risk,” Rachel said.

Other ways to protect your skin from the sun include:

  • Wear sunscreen every day, year-round, and be sure to put enough on. Experts recommend one ounce (about enough to fill a shot glass) to cover your entire body and one-quarter teaspoon for your face.
  • Reapply sunscreen according to the package instructions. If you are in the water or sweating heavily, you may need to reapply more often.
  • Wear protective clothing such as hats with wide brims or long sleeves.
  • Seek shade during the hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., when the sun’s rays are at their strongest.

Heat rash prevention

Since heat rash is caused by high levels of moisture trapped near the skin, it’s wise to wear loose-fitting clothing made of light fabrics such as cotton. Some other ways to prevent heat rash include limiting outdoor activities to early morning or evenings, and showering regularly, especially after strenuous outdoor activity.

Prevent poison ivy

  • Check your yard for this itchy weed before doing anything such as gardening.
  • If you intend to remove poison ivy plants, remember to wear heavy duty gloves and boots. Put the pulled plants into a plastic garbage bag and seal. Never try to burn poison ivy. The oily smoke is very dangerous if it is inhaled. Be sure to wash your clothing in hot water, and take a thorough shower to remove any possible oils.
  • Shower thoroughly after yard work.
  • Wipe off pets when they come inside. The plant’s toxic oils can travel on cat and dog fur and get on your skin.

How to get rid of summer rashes

Most summer rashes are annoying but treatable at home. You can alleviate most symptoms by:

  • Taking over-the-counter anti-itch creams
  • Taking over-the-counter antihistamines to relieve itching or swelling
  • Placing cool compresses on the affected areas
  • Applying aloe vera gel to sunburned skin
  • Using gentle soaps and moisturizers
  • Using sunscreen
  • Spending time in cool, well-ventilated areas and using fans to circulate air.

When to see a doctor

“If your symptoms don’t seem to get better within a few days, it might be time to visit a health care professional,” Dr. Rademaker said.

Norton Healthcare has Norton Immediate Care Centers, Norton Prompt Care Clinics — some in Walgreens stores — and Norton eCare, so you can find the care you need fast.

See a health care professional if you:

  • Have worsening symptoms
  • Have signs of infection
  • Have an allergic reaction

Prevention is key when it comes to summer skin conditions: Wear sunscreen, stay hydrated and shower in cool water. If you see early signs of a summer rash such as pink skin, an itchy patch or red bumps, use over-the-counter medications as soon as possible. Norton Healthcare offers care everywhere you are. Schedule a visit from your Norton MyChart account or call one of our many locations.

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