"The groundwork of all happiness is health." - Leigh Hunt

Common summer skin rash

What to do about prickly heat, poison ivy, and other uncomfortable skin reactions

Photo: © LCOSMO/Getty Images

Sunburn is a significant risk in summer. You know the foundations: seek shade, wear protective clothing, and use broad-spectrum sunscreen (with an SPF of not less than 30). But sunburn isn't only a summer skin problem.

Vegetative spots

The best treatment: a prescription-strength topical steroid, and an oral steroid for extreme cases. “Over-the-counter hydrocortisone treatment is very weak,” notes Dr. Frangos. The rash may last for several weeks.

Prickly heat

When you sweat profusely, your clothes and even the fabric of the chair you're sitting on can block a number of the pores in your skin that allow sweat to flee. This causes inflammation of the ducts that carry sweat to the skin, causing small itchy bumps wherever the fabric touches you. It's called prickly heat, because you are feeling a prickly sensation because the bumps pop and sweat. But don't worry. “The best treatment is to let your skin breathe. Wear loose clothing, and make sure your skin is dry and cool,” says Dr. Frangos. For quick relief, try cool compresses or over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream.

Sun allergy.

Sometimes the immune system mistakenly attacks as “foreign” skin components which were damaged by sunlight. “Often during the first sunny days of the season, some people develop an itchy rash on skin exposed to the sun, such as on the face, ears, and neck. This reaction may subside as summer progresses, though Some people need careful sun protection all summer long,” says Dr. Frangos.

Side effects of your medications

Certain medications can sensitize some people to the sun's radiation, leading to immediate sunburn. Prime suspects: certain antibiotics, thiazide diuretics, contraception pills, antihistamines, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs akin to ibuprofen (Advil). “They lower your threshold for burning. It's best to seek shade, wear sunscreen, and check with your doctor to see if alternative treatments are available,” advises Dr. Frangos.

When must you see a health care provider?

Contact your doctor if any of those spots persist and stop you from sleeping, working, or resting. But it's different for poison ivy. “In most cases,” says Dr. Frangos, “it's worth contacting your doctor just to get a prescription-strength medication that will improve your symptoms.”