Prickly Heat? Don’t Try Talc

Sweat (Hadise album)
Sweat (Hadise album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A genuine “Indian summer” is upon us now with temperatures all over the country in the high thirties and forties. Earlier, Indians used to wear white cotton clothes in summer but now most prefer to dress in synthetic silks, and polyester fabrics, little realising that those clothes are totally inappropriate in this weather.

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Even school children — who are issued uniforms with the material and tailoring regulated by the school — end up wearing thick synthetic clothes when ideally they should wear pure cotton or at least a 60 per cent cotton and 40 per cent polyester mix.

To survive, our bodies need to maintain an average internal temperature of 98.6ºF or 36.6ºC and it uses sweating to regulate the temperature. When the outside temperature is high, the body secretes sweat from glands situated in the layer below the skin. The sweat reaches the surface through coiled tubes and forms a thin film of fluid. As this layer evaporates, the body cools down. Sweating can be excessive when the temperature is high, there is increased physical exertion, there is little or no circulation of air and if the clothes are made of synthetic material that traps the sweat. (Nowadays many sports companies manufacture sports clothes out of special material that “wicks” away the sweat).

If sweat pores get blocked (by dead skin cells, dirt or talcum powder), the trapped sweat forms tiny clear bumps below the surface of the skin called miliria crystalline (prickly heat). These look unsightly but do not really cause any symptoms. Eventually, they turn red (miliria rubra), and evolve into a brown scaly rash which can be confused with pimples, folliculitis or chicken pox.

Prickly heat usually appears in covered areas where sweat cannot evaporate easily or the pores are blocked. The forehead is affected if it is covered with a fringe or cap. The upper back and chest, and the arms are other common locations. In adults the rash sometimes appears on the inner thighs or in areas where there are body folds. It is aggravated by friction between the skin and tight fitting non-absorbent synthetic clothing. The continuous rubbing can lead to the skin eventually peeling off, leaving a raw red area.

Prickly heat causes itching and a tingling sensation but scratching can cause secondary infection with bacteria. The appearance of the rash then changes and there can be a yellow pus discharge. The person may develop fever. Uninfected prickly heat, however, does not cause fever. Although prickly heat is uncomfortable and unsightly, with a little care it can be easily prevented.

• Stay away from the direct heat of the sun as far as possible

• Wear loose fitting cotton clothes or at least a 60-40 mix of cotton and polyester

• Make sure school uniforms are stitched out of natural materials, preferably thin materials

• Try to ensure that schools have fans and ventilation.

• Do not scratch. The more you scratch, the more it will itch.

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• Use a mild dose of antihistamine to control itching.

• Do not apply thick oil-based creams and talc. They will only block the pores further.

Bathe two or three times a day in tepid water. Add a teaspoon of sodium bicarbonate to a bucket of water before bathing till the prickly heat disappears.

• Use soap containing trichlorhexidine (Dial, Neko) Do not apply soap directly to the skin. Use a moist wash rag, a herbal scrubber or a loofah.

• If prickly heat becomes red and pustular, changes appearance or the temperature rises, consult a doctor immediately.

Contrary to advertisements on television, talc does not soothe, relieve or prevent prickly heat. Talc is made up of finely powdered combinations of ground zinc stearate, and silicates. It blocks the skin pores, increasing the sweat build up and aggravating prickly heat.

Talc causes other medical problems as well. The size of the particles is so small that they can easily be inhaled. The particles can reach the smallest areas of the lung and cause pneumonia, inflammation or swelling of the airways. This can be fatal in babies. If applied to the groin and genital areas, talc can migrate through the vagina, uterus, and fallopian tubes to the ovary. Some scientific studies have found a relationship between the use of talcum powder and cancer of the ovary.

Baby powder is talc based and should not be used. Nappy rash is different from prickly heat and the treatment is different too.

If you get prickly heat, bathe two to three times a day. Use plain calamine lotion (not creams and ointment) to relieve the itching. If secondary infection has occurred, consult a doctor.

You may click to see :
*Remedies for Prickly Heat
*Natural Remedy for Prickly Heat

* Two baths a day keep bacteria at bay

Source : The Telegraph ( Kolkata, India)

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