You’re on a trip to Walt Disney World sometime between April and September (a time of year fondly called the Heat & Humidity Festival by us locals), from your home where you don’t see the sun or warmth for half the year (or more). After a few days of walking around the theme parks, water parks or one of our fabulous beaches, you wake up one morning to find your legs are covered in a red splotchy rash.
What is it? Is it dangerous? What should you do about it?
Maybe you’ll search the internet to find out about it, and if so, Hello!!!! First of all, understand that you’re currently reading a travel blog. If you have a medical emergency, seek attention immediately and stop Googling your symptoms.
Otherwise, you might head to the local pharmacy to find out what you can buy to treat it. You’ll find out that this is a pretty common problem for people visiting Orlando or anywhere else that gets really hot.
You’ve come down with Disney Rash. Oh, it has plenty of other names like:
- Golfer’s Rash
- Hiker’s Rash
- Runner’s Rash
- Dollywood Rash
All of these names refer to the same condition: Exercise-Induced Vasculitis (EIV).
This condition is characterized by a telltale red rash that starts just above the sock line. There are many possible causes for the condition and just as many potential treatments.
Causes of Exercise-Induced Vasculitis
While the actual cause isn’t known, a reasonable explanation is that the rash is caused by increased physical exercise combined with heat.
Anyone who’s looked at their FitBit or Apple Watch knows that walking around a theme park for a day, or two or three, covers a bunch of steps. Walking several miles a day is not uncommon. Now ask yourself, how much do you usually walk in a day or a week?
All of this increased exercise leads to fluid retention in the extremities; in other words, your legs swell. This extra fluid stretches out the small blood vessels in your legs. This irritation from the swelling in combination with the heat (not the sun, as many people think; you can get Disney Rash on a cloudy day) is the current explanation for the redness, which is not truly a rash in the term’s medical sense.
If you think about it, this makes sense. Why does the redness happen just above the sock line? Because below that, your sock (and shoes) provide compression and prevent the blood vessels in those areas from getting swollen and irritated.
Treatment of Exercise-Induced Vasculitis
So now that we know what is the most likely cause of the redness of your legs, what can you do to treat it? Unlike some conditions, you just can’t put a cream on it or take a pill and make it go away. The redness will usually go away on its own in 7-10 days, once you stop the activity that caused it to happen. In other words, it will go away when you go home and get back to your routine.
Now, if you want to help it clear up, there are some things you can do:
- Applying an over-the-counter Hydrocortisone cream can help if the area is itchy
- Staying hydrated (drinking plenty of water) might help and is good advice for anyone outside in the summer heat.
- Sitting with your legs elevated or putting cold towels over your legs can help reduce the swelling (edema) and help reduce the irritation to the blood vessels.
Prevention of Exercise-Induced Vasculitis
So maybe you’ve suffered from this condition before, or you want to make sure this doesn’t happen to you on your vacation. What can you do?
Since this usually happens to people when they radically increase their physical activity, combined with the excessive heat in Florida, getting your body ready for the trip in advance may decrease the incidence of Disney Rash. Don’t expect your body to go from 0 to Disney overnight. Even moderate exercise before the trip will prepare your body to deal with the increased physical activity you’ll experience when walking around the parks for hours per day.
If you’re still concerned, wearing a pair of compression socks can help reduce the edema (swelling) of your legs and hopefully prevent Disney Rash. They’ll also help keep your feet from swelling on the plane trip to Florida.
Watching what you eat can also help. One thing people tend to do when vacationing is forgetting to watch their diet. Increasing your salt intake (hello, popcorn carts and pretzels along with french fries/chips and hot dogs) can cause fluid retention, which is just the thing you want to avoid if you’re worried about getting vasculitis.
There’s also evidence that anything from wearing sunscreen, massaging your legs during the day or taking a cool bath at the end of the day can help prevent symptoms.
I’d tend to say that people need to understand that if they put their body under increased stress, like a drastic increase in physical activity under extreme heat conditions, a physical presentation shouldn’t be unexpected. In other words, if you go walking five miles a day on 110-degree concrete, you shouldn’t be shocked that you break out into a “rash.”
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary