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ESSENTIALS OF DIAGNOSIS

  • Burning, itching, superficial aggregated small vesicles, papules, or pustules on covered areas of the skin, usually the trunk.

  • More common in hot, moist climates.

  • Rare forms associated with fever and even heat prostration.

GENERAL CONSIDERATIONS

Miliaria occurs most commonly on the trunk and intertriginous areas. A hot, moist environment is the most frequent cause. Occlusive clothing, fever while bedridden, and medications that enhance sweat gland function (eg, clonidine, beta-blockers, opioids) may increase the risk. Plugging of the ostia of sweat ducts occurs, with ultimate rupture of the sweat duct, producing an irritating, stinging reaction. Increase in numbers of resident aerobes, notably cocci, plays a role.

CLINICAL FINDINGS

The usual symptoms are burning and itching. The histologic depth of sweat gland obstruction determines the clinical presentation: miliaria crystallina in the superficial (subcorneal) epidermis, miliaria rubra in the deep epidermis, and miliaria profunda in the dermis. The lesions consist of small (1–3 mm) nonfollicular lesions. Subcorneal thin-walled, discrete clear fluid-filled vesicles are termed “miliaria crystallina.” When fluid is turbid and lesions present as vesicopustules or pustules, they are called miliaria pustulosa. Miliaria rubra (prickly heat) presents as pink papules. Miliaria profunda presents as nonfollicular skin-colored papules that develop after multiple bouts of miliaria rubra (eFigure 6–61). In a hospitalized patient, the reaction virtually always affects the back.

eFigure 6–61.

An example of miliaria crystalline denoted by vesicular eruption over the trunk of this patient. Miliaria rubra can simulate folliculitis. (Used, with permission, from I Frieden, MD.)

DIFFERENTIAL DIAGNOSIS

Miliaria is to be distinguished from a drug eruption and folliculitis.

PREVENTION

Use of a topical antibacterial preparation, such as chlorhexidine, prior to exposure to heat and humidity may help prevent the condition. Frequent turning or sitting of the hospitalized patient may reduce miliaria on the back.

TREATMENT

The patient should keep cool and wear light clothing. A mid-potency corticosteroid (triamcinolone acetonide, 0.1%) in a lotion or cream may be applied two to four times daily. Secondary infections (superficial pyoderma) are treated with appropriate antistaphylococcal antibiotics. Anticholinergic medications (eg, glycopyrrolate 1 mg orally twice a day or topically applied) may be helpful in severe cases.

PROGNOSIS

Miliaria is usually a mild disorder, but severe forms (tropical anhidrosis and asthenia) result from interference with the heat-regulating mechanism.

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Tey  HL  et al. In vivo imaging of miliaria profunda using high-definition optical coherence tomography: diagnosis, pathogenesis, and treatment. JAMA Dermatol. 2015 Mar 1;151(3):346–8.
[PubMed: 25390622]
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Yanamandra  U  et al. Miliaria crystallina: relevance in patients with hemato-oncological febrile neutropenia. BMJ Case Rep. 2015 Nov 26;5:212231.
[PubMed: 26611484]

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