5 Experts Explain The Dreaded Disney Rash and How To Avoid It

Teenagers ride head down on a carousel. Extreme rides in the park.

Between increasing remote work and a rise in jobs that require people to be in front of a computer all day, Americans have become more sedentary.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report found that more than 15 percent of American adults are physically inactive. Additionally, according to the Mayo Clinic, on average, they take only 3,000 to 4,000 steps per day. That’s less than 20% of the recommended minimum amount of movement.

So what happens when Americans visit a Disney theme park and take 20,000 steps or more daily in hot, humid weather? Many get the Disney rash.

If you’re planning on visiting Disney or any other theme park in a warm climate, here’s what you can do to prevent it and what items you should bring to treat it.

It Turns Out The Disney Rash Isn’t Actually a Rash

It is a nickname for exercise-induced vasculitis (EIV). This condition also happens to runners, dancers, hikers, golfers, swimmers, or simply those standing for long periods in warm climates and heat.

“When the body goes through a vigorous, active period, like prolonged walking, running, or playing sports, it creates an imbalance in the normal functioning of the vascular system,” said Dr. Sony Sherpa. “This leads to swollen and weakened capillaries, which can lead to redness and discomfort.”

“These painful, red or purple splotches appear on areas of the skin not covered by clothing and last anywhere from 3-10 days,” added Catherine Burger, MSOL, RN, NEA-BC, and Chief Nursing Officer. “The rash appears in people who typically are not active yet suddenly spend hours walking in hot or humid weather.”

“Although the exact cause of this condition is unknown, some scientists think that the combination of heat exposure and exercise can damage both muscle fibers and blood vessels, leading to the development of a rash,” said Kelly Johnson-Arbor, MD, board-certified emergency medicine physician.

Fortunately, the Disney rash isn’t dangerous or life-threatening and usually disappears on its own. However, it can cause an uncomfortable feeling of itchiness, stinging sensation, or even pain. So if you get the Disney rash, it will stick around long enough to put a damper on your trip to the happiest place on earth.

So How Can You Prepare for a Disney Trip and Prevent The Disney Rash?

A lack of regular exercise combined with the sheer size of theme parks and Florida heat is a recipe for disaster.

Most people don’t realize how large Orlando’s theme parks are and the miles and miles of walking they’ll be doing each day. Magic Kingdom is 142 acres, Hollywood Studios is 154 acres, Epcot is 300 acres, and Animal Kingdom is 500 total acres making it Disney’s biggest park. Additionally, Universal Studios Orlando is over 500 acres.  During our last trip to Disney, we walked over 30,000 steps a day.

“If your body is not used to prolonged periods of walking, especially in the heat, you are more likely to end up with EIV. Start a daily walking routine a few months before your trip and slowly increase your distances to tolerance,” recommended Dr. Peter J. Scordilis, a Certified Chiropractic Sports Physician at Scordilis Health and Performance Center. “If you live in a cold climate, it is better to perform these workouts indoors so the temperature is closer to what you will experience in Florida.”

“Preparing your body, especially your blood vessels, will reduce the risk of inflammation due to overexertion. You can also perform some gentle lower body mobility exercises to prepare your ankles and calves for the increased movement,” added Scordilis.

What Items Should I Pack In My Suitcase To Help Prevent The Disney Rash?

While the exact cause of the condition is unknown, and there is no foolproof way to prevent it, experts recommend wearing the following items to give you a leg up against the Disney rash:

  • Compression socks: Published research shows that EIV and vein challenges are connected, so wearing compression socks can help prevent lower leg and ankle swelling. Wearing them can also reduce the likelihood of the rash by improving muscle recovery time and reducing vascular swelling. Runners use this common practice after long training sessions or races to help recover. So even if you don’t get the Disney rash, your leg muscles will thank you after long, multiple days of walking in Orlando’s theme parks and racing towards short lines during rope-drop.
  • Longer socks: The Disney rash generally spares covered areas of skin, so avoid low-cut ankle socks and pack longer ones.
  • Clothing with lightweight fabric: Experts recommend wearing thin athletic-style outfits that help keep the body cool to prevent overheating.
  • Comfortable and supportive shoes: This is not the time to be cute or fashion-forward! While you’ll be taking a lot of pictures, athletic sneakers are best, not sandals, dress flats, flip-flops, or flimsy sneakers.  You want to pick shoes that will reduce stress on your muscles.

What Can I Do During Park Days To Prevent It?

When planning theme park days, most people try to squeeze as much in as possible. However, keeping your health in mind is essential, or the Disney rash may bring down a much-looked-forward-to trip.

Experts recommend incorporating the following healthy habits into your park days to reduce the possibility of getting the Disney rash:

  • Take breaks: Long days of walking and standing in ride lines in the Florida humidity is not easy on your body. Therefore, incorporating five or ten minutes of sit-down breaks to rest your legs during the day is essential.
  • Elevate your legs: When sitting down for meals or small breaks, elevate your legs, especially if regular exercise is not part of your daily routine.
  • Keep hydrated: Dehydration can make a person more prone to EIV. Bring a reusable water bottle to the parks and ask for complementary water and ice throughout the day. Disney allows you to bring outside food and drink, so pack electrolyte beverages like Gatorade or Vitaminwater. This will enable you to avoid pricey soda and sugary drinks and stay hydrated while sticking to your budget.
  • Mind your magnesium: Magnesium deficiency is common among Americans, and there is evidence that it can make people more prone to the Disney rash. So take a magnesium supplement each morning or pack magnesium-rich coconut water to drink throughout the day at the parks.
  • Bring a mini-first aid kit: Many parkgoers put Band-Aids in their backpack in case of blisters. Make sure to add a small tube of hydrocortisone as well as over-the-counter pain relievers. If you get Disney rash, these two items can relieve the burning, itching, and pain.

I’ve Gotten The Disney Rash; What Should I Do?

Even if you’re in the park and have none of the recommended items in your bag, you can still treat a Disney rash immediately.

“Cooling down properly and avoiding overexertion are key interventions,” said Sherpa. “Apply an ice pack on the affected area and elevate your feet to improve circulation.”

If you’re far from a theme park first-aid station, ask the nearest restaurant or refreshment stand for ice to start immediate treatment. Customer service in Disney parks is unparalleled, so don’t be shy in telling a staffer about your or your family member’s Disney rash. Most have walkie-talkies and can call for a first-aid team member to come to you with ice packs and first-aid items.

If you can continue with your park day, ensure the affected area is covered to avoid additional sun exposure. Head to the nearest gift shop and see what clothing items they have. You may need to get creative, such as cutting socks into long legwarmers or wearing pants from a different department than you’d normally shop in. Continue to apply a wet compress to the skin throughout the day to keep it cool.

Once you get back to your accommodations, take a cold shower or bath and continue to elevate your feet and legs. According to Viktoryia Kazlouskaya, a board-certified dermatologist, only in rare instances is the rash severe and requires further attention from a doctor.

Don’t Let The Disney Rash Derail Your Very Expensive Trip

A basic Disney vacation for a family of four costs over $6,000. This takes into account transportation, lodging, food, and sky-high park tickets. With a bit of preparation, a smartly packed suitcase, and a prepared park backpack, you’ll keep yourself and your family off the sidelines and in line for all the Disney rides and attractions you’ve dreamed of experiencing.

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