Remedies for chicken pox

Contents

Chickenpox

  • Larger text sizeLarge text sizeRegular text size

What Is Chickenpox?

Chickenpox is caused by a virus called varicella zoster. People who get the virus have:

  • a fever
  • a rash of spots that look like blisters

They also might get a runny nose, cough, and stomachache.

Thanks to the chickenpox vaccine, kids don’t get chickenpox as much as they once did.

What Are the Signs of Chickenpox?

Chickenpox may start out seeming like a cold: You might have a runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, and a cough.

But 1 to 2 days later, the rash begins, often in bunches of spots on the chest and face. From there it can spread out quickly over the entire body — sometimes the rash is even in a person’s ears and mouth.

You’ve probably heard that chickenpox is itchy. It’s true! The chickenpox blisters are small and sit on an area of red skin that can be anywhere from the size of a pencil eraser to the size of a dime.

At first, the rash looks like pinkish dots that quickly develop a small blister on top (a blister is a bump on your skin that fills up with fluid). After about 24 to 48 hours, the fluid in the blisters gets cloudy and the blisters begin to crust over.

Chickenpox blisters show up in waves. So after some begin to crust over, a new group of spots might appear. It usually takes 10–14 days for all the blisters to be scabbed over and then you are no longer contagious.

How Does Chickenpox Spread?

Chickenpox is contagious, meaning that somebody who has it can easily spread it to someone else. A person with chickenpox is most contagious during the first 2 to 5 days of being sick. That’s usually about 1 to 2 days before the rash shows up. So you could be spreading around chickenpox without even knowing it!

Someone with chickenpox can pass it to others by coughing or sneezing, when tiny drops come out of the mouth and nose. These drops are full of the chickenpox virus. It’s easy for others to breathe in these drops or get them on their hands. Before you know it, the chickenpox virus has infected someone new.

Itchy-Itchy, Scratchy-Scratchy

If you are that unlucky person, how do you keep your chickenpox from driving you crazy? They itch, but you shouldn’t scratch them. Scratching the blisters can tear your skin and leave scars. Scratching also can let germs in, and the blisters could get infected.

These tips can help you feel less itchy:

  • Keep cool because heat and sweat will make you itch more. You might want to put a lukewarm washcloth on the really bad areas.
  • Trim your fingernails, so if you do scratch, you won’t tear your skin.
  • Soak in a lukewarm bath. Adding some to your bath water can help relieve the itching.
  • Have your mom or dad help you apply calamine lotion, which soothes itching.

If your fever goes higher and an area of your skin gets really red, warm, and painful, tell an adult right away. You’ll need to see a doctor because you could have an infection.

How Can I Feel Better?

While you have the chickenpox, a pain reliever like

might help you feel better, but let your parents help you with this. Medicines and creams that may stop the itch can also be helpful.

Do not take aspirin because it can cause a rare but serious illness in kids called Reye syndrome.

It doesn’t usually happen, but let your parents know if you feel especially bad. Sometimes, chickenpox leads to other, more serious illnesses.

Most kids don’t have any major problems and get better in a week or two. And when all the blisters have scabs, you’re not contagious anymore and you can go back to school! In a few days, the scabs will fall off. A kid who gets chickenpox is unlikely to ever get it again.

Get a Shot, Avoid the Dots!

Not long ago, millions of people got chickenpox each year in the United States. But now that kids get the vaccine, fewer and fewer people get chickenpox.

Kids get the chickenpox vaccine as two shots:

  1. a first shot when they’re 12–15 months old
  2. a booster shot when they’re 4–6 years old

But kids can get vaccinated when they’re older too. Ask your mom or dad if you’ve had your shots. You’ll be glad that you did if chickenpox starts making its way around your school!

Reviewed by: Kate M. Cronan, MD Date reviewed: January 2019

About chickenpox

Chickenpox is a contagious disease that’s caused by the Varicella zoster virus.

Chickenpox can spread through:

  • direct physical contact with someone who has chickenpox
  • sneezing and coughing
  • direct physical contact with someone who has shingles.

Like chickenpox, shingles is caused by the Varicella zoster virus. If you’ve previously had chickenpox and the virus is reactivated, you can get shingles.

Symptoms of chickenpox

Children infected with the chickenpox virus don’t usually have symptoms until 2-3 weeks after contact.

In children, the illness usually starts with a general feeling of tiredness, as well as a fever and swollen glands. Over the next 3-5 days, a rash breaks out.

At first, this rash appears as red spots, which develop into crops of small blisters over the chest, back, tummy or face. These soon appear on the rest of the body, and might even come up in the mouth or ears, or on the genitals or eyes. The blisters are extremely itchy, and new ones form as older ones scab over and dry up. The scabs can take several weeks to fall off.

The rash doesn’t leave any scars unless the blisters or scabs are scratched, or the sores get infected.

Chickenpox symptoms tend to be much milder in children than in adults.

Chickenpox is contagious from two days before the rash appears until all existing sores or blisters have formed scabs and are completely dry. This usually takes around a week.

Chickenpox complications and risks

Healthy children mostly have an itchy rash but no other complications. Rarely, chickenpox sores can get infected with bacteria. The bacteria can go on to cause other diseases like pneumonia and encephalitis.

There are some children who are at high risk if they come into contact with chickenpox. The virus can affect them very severely. These children include:

  • new babies
  • unimmunised children
  • children who have low immunity
  • children with cancer
  • children who are taking immunosuppressant medication like high-dose corticosteroids.

These children need to be kept away from people with chickenpox or people who might have been infected with chickenpox but aren’t yet showing symptoms.

Does your child need to see a doctor about chickenpox?

You should take your child to the GP if you’re worried your child might have chickenpox.

You should also talk with your GP if your child is in one of a high-risk groups above and has been in contact with someone who could have chickenpox.

Women who are pregnant are also at high risk and should see a GP.

Treatment for chickenpox

Children with chickenpox usually need treatment only to relieve symptoms like itch and fever.

To help with the itch, soak gauze pads in bicarbonate of soda and water and put the pads over the sores. Creams like calamine lotion might also help. If your child really can’t stand the itching, your doctor might prescribe an antihistamine medicine.

Give paracetamol according to directions if your child is miserable with a fever.

Make sure your child gets plenty of fluids and rest.

If your child has chickenpox, it can help to keep his nails short. This way, if he does scratch, the sores are less likely to get infected. You could also put mittens on younger children.

Children who have very severe chickenpox and who need to be hospitalised might be given anti-viral medication, most commonly acyclovir.

Keep your child away from child care, preschool or school until the last blister has scabbed over.

Don’t give your child aspirin. Children treated with aspirin might develop Reye’s syndrome, a rare but very serious condition.

Chickenpox prevention

The best way to avoid chickenpox is to have your child immunised.

As part of the Australian National Immunisation Program (NIP), your child will get free immunisation against chickenpox at 18 months old (unless she has already had chickenpox) or in year 7 of secondary school (if she hasn’t had a chickenpox immunisation or infection).

Chickenpox immunisation is also recommended for children 14 years and older, as well as for adults who haven’t been immunised against chickenpox or who haven’t yet had the disease. This isn’t paid for under the NIP.

Immunisation for chickenpox is around 90% effective. This means that, rarely, some children still catch chickenpox even if they’ve been immunised. But the illness tends to be shorter and the skin blisters aren’t as severe.

People with shingles should keep their rash covered to reduce the risk of passing the virus on to any children.

Many of us will recall those itchy, red blisters we suffered as children. Chicken pox is the common name for the varicella-zoster virus, which causes a very itchy, highly-contagious skin rash. The virus most commonly affects children between the ages of 4–10, but chicken pox can also affect adults who have never had the virus and therefore are not yet immune to it. Luckily, there are many options for chicken pox treatment.

How is chicken pox treated? Fortunately most healthy children and adults who get chicken pox will not require much or any medical attention or chicken pox treatment. In most cases a chicken pox skin rash will go away on its own within about two weeks without any medications or other interventions. However, in severe cases the virus can cause symptoms that linger for months, or, rarely, other complications such as scarring or pneumonia.

If you’re unfortunate enough to suffer from chicken pox symptoms for many weeks or even longer, there are a number of home remedies available for natural chicken pox treatment. These include things like taking soothing baths with oatmeal, applying anti-inflammatory products to the skin, and reducing body aches with essential oils. Treatments for chicken pox won’t “cure” the virus or prevent it from spreading to other people, but they can be really helpful for reducing itching, scabbing, fever symptoms, risk for infection and permanent scarring of the skin.

Chicken Pox Risk Factors, Causes & Symptoms

Chicken pox is very contagious and spreads easily from person to person. Chicken pox can spread even without direct contact since the virus can travel through the air via tiny respiratory droplets that are breathed in. It can also be transmitted through direct contact with an infected person’s skin fluids.

Chicken pox symptoms usually appear within about two to three weeks after someone comes into contact with the virus. The most common chicken pox symptoms include: (1)

  • Developing a red skin rash that is usually severely itchy and uncomfortable. The rash usually forms on the face, scalp, chest, back and, to a lesser extent, on the arms and legs. Typically a chicken pox rash will be active for about five days before the blisters fill with fluid, rupture, and then form scabs.
  • Fever that usually lasts under five days and can cause symptoms like a stiff neck, nausea, body aches, etc.
  • Abdominal pain and loss of appetite.
  • Headaches.
  • Fatigue, unease (malaise) and lethargy.
  • Sometimes a dry cough and sore throat.

Rarely, someone will get chicken pox more than once; however, the vast majority of the time chicken pox only affects people one time (usually while they are a child).What are the biggest risk factors for developing chicken pox? These include:

  • Never having had chicken pox before, which means someone is not yet immune to the virus.
  • Having close contact with anyone who is infected or was recently infected (both children and adults).
  • Working in close contact with children, such as in a daycare or school.
  • Never having been vaccinated for chicken pox.
  • Being an infant or newborn whose mother never had chickenpox or the vaccine.
  • Having a weakened immune systems or taking immunosuppressing medications (such as steroids), which can include cancer treatments or treatment for HIV.

Prevention & Conventional Chicken Pox Treatment

Prevention is key when it comes to protecting yourself or your children from chicken pox. The most common way that someone gets chicken pox is through direct contact with another infected person’s skin, such as through exposure to fluids that leak from chicken pox blisters. If possible, avoid direct contact with someone who has an active case of chicken pox.

If a child or adult with chicken pox is otherwise healthy, then most doctors will recommend simply staying home, resting, possibly taking an over-the-counter (OTC) painkiller to manage symptoms, and giving the virus time to pass. The vast majority of children and adults who do develop chicken pox will fully overcome the virus within several weeks and experience no long-term health problems as a result. However, when someone has a compromised immune system — for example, due to a history of another illness or from taking immunosuppressant drugs — there are certain serious complications that can be caused by chicken pox. (2)

Medications and treatment might then be needed to prevent or manage complications, such as:

  • Nervous system complications
  • Varicella pneumonia
  • Internal infection of the organs
  • Hepatitis
  • Deformities in developing fetuses when the mother is infected
  • Encephalitis (inflammation of the brain)

Some of the medications for chicken pox treatment that doctors may prescribe include: (3)

  • Acyclovir (Zoviraz)
  • Immune globulin intravenous (IGIV)
  • Valacyclovir (Valtrex)
  • Famciclovir (Famvir)
  • Bromovinyl deoxyuridine (Brivudin)

There is also a varicella-zoster vaccine available. If you choose to vaccinate, most health authorities recommend that children receive the chicken pox vaccine between 12 and 18 months of age. Older children, and even teens and adults, can also receive the vaccine at a later age if they have never had the virus, especially if they are in a high-risk group. For people over the age of 13 who have never had the virus and want to get the vaccine, they will need more than one dose (usually two) that are spread apart by four to eight weeks.

However, it’s important to know that the chicken pox vaccine doesn’t offer total protection from the virus. Some children, and adults, too, will still develop symptoms of chicken pox that can be treated by resting, soothing the skin and supporting the immune system.

In fact, varicella vaccination is not as effective as the natural immunity that develops from having the virus. (4) Plus, among otherwise healthy children, most cases of chicken pox are not severe and will heal without much intervention.

If you do choose to vaccinate, it’s important to be aware of possible side effects so that you can recognize them if they occur and contact your health care provider.

Keep in mind that the chicken pox vaccine is not approved for use by pregnant women, people with certain immune system conditions, or people who have allergies to microbes and antibiotics that are used in the vaccine.

9 Natural Remedies for Chicken Pox Treatment

  1. Don’t scratch.
  2. Apply a cool compress.
  3. Take an oatmeal bath.
  4. Apply baking soda, apple cider vinegar, honey or an antihistamine lotion.
  5. Use neem and jojoba oils.
  6. Apply essential oils.
  7. Use antiviral herbs and supplements to boost immune function.
  8. Stay hydrated and eat a bland diet.
  9. If all else fails, or you have a fever, try OTC pain medicine. Don’t take aspirin.

1. Don’t Scratch Itchy Skin

This is the first rule of chicken pox treatment: The best thing to do when a chicken pox rash is healing is to leave the bumps, blisters and scabs alone, avoiding scratching the skin as much as possible. Picking at or scratching a chicken pox rash can actually make the rash worse, prolong symptoms, potentially lead to an infection, and/or contribute to increased skin scabbing and scarring. Some people choose to wear gloves over their hands, or put gloves on their children if they have a rash, in order to prevent unknowingly scratching their skin while they sleep.

2. Soothe Inflammation By Applying a Cool Compress

When skin becomes very itchy, swollen or red, gently apply a cool, damp compress to the skin throughout the day as a basic chicken pox treatment. Use a natural fabric like cotton and avoid putting ice or high heat directly on the skin.

3. Take An Oatmeal Bath

You can reduce skin dryness and itchiness associated with chicken pox by keeping your skin moist and utilizing oatmeal’s natural skin-calming qualities. Oatmeal has many natural soothing properties and helps relieve all types of irritation of the skin, including contact dermatitis and other causes of itchiness. (5)

Try taking a warm (but not very hot) bath once or more daily and adding uncooked oatmeal or colloidal oatmeal (finely ground oats that form a powder to be used for soaking) to provide relief from itching. (6) Read directions in order to know how much colloidal oatmeal is best to use. Soak in the bath for 10 to 15 minutes or longer, if you’d like. Another chicken pox treatment option is to apply topical colloidal oatmeal creams or lotions directly to your skin.

4. Apply Honey, Baking Soda, Vinegar or Antihistamine Lotion to the Skin

Baking soda is a widely available, inexpensive ingredient that is known to have anti-itch properties and help soothe skin inflammation. It may help to neutralize acids present in the skin and reduce irritation due to rashes. Baking soda can be applied in small amounts to itchy skin, but shouldn’t be used if skin is broken, raw or bleeding.

Start by adding about 1 teaspoon of baking soda to a small amount of warm water, either creating a paste or dissolving the baking soda, then dabbing it over the skin with a cloth. Leave the solution to set and dry. It’s best to test a small section of your skin first to make sure it doesn’t contribute to any type of painful reaction or worsened symptoms.

Real, raw honey is another ingredient that is very beneficial for the skin, helping to calm inflammation, reduce the risk for scarring, and promote faster healing. (7) Purchase fresh, high-quality honey that has not been processed and heated to high temperatures, ensuring that its active ingredients are intact. To use honey on a chicken pox rash, coat the infected area of skin with a thin layer of gently warmed-up honey and then leave it to dry. Let the honey soak into the skin for at least 15 minutes. You can do this two to three times daily, in addition to adding honey to smoothies or teas to support your immune system.

Yet another ingredient that some people find effective for reducing skin itching and swelling is raw apple cider vinegar (ACV). You can either add about 1 cup of ACV to a bath, or use about 2–3 tablespoons mixed into a glass of water that you dab a cloth into and then gently apply to the skin. Just be careful that you don’t ever apply ACV to broken skin or open wounds.

5. Use Neem Oil & Jojoba Oil

Neem oil has many natural antiviral and antioxidant properties that help to soothe inflamed, swollen skin. It’s known to help reduce itching, clustering of blisters, pain and scarring associated with many different rashes including chicken pox. (8) Azadirachtin is the most active component found in neem oil, along with other compounds like fatty acids and vitamin E. And because neem oil contains many antioxidants, such as carotenoids and quercetin, it’s beneficial for overall skin health even after your rash is gone.

To use neem oil as a natural chicken pox treatment, combine about a half ounce of pure organic neem oil with 8 ounces of organic jojoba oil. Place your ingredients in a cosmetic container or small cosmetic bottle, mix well and then apply to the affected area of your skin liberally. You can use the solution on itchy skin about two or three times a day. Another option, if you’re able to find neem leaves, is to mash a handful of leaves into a paste with a bit of boiling water. Wait about 10 minutes for the mixture to cool, then apply to your skin. Neem leaves can also be added to baths, just like essential oils or oatmeal.

Keep in mind that you should not use undiluted neem oil on your skin as it can be very strong, so make sure to combine it with another carrier oil. It’s recommended that you always try a very small amount on a patch of skin first to make sure you don’t have any adverse reaction.

6. Apply Soothing Essential Oils

Lavender essential oil can be added to the neem/jojoba recipe above to further help provide relief from itching and promote skin healing. Lavender oil contains numerous active ingredients that soothe swelling, itching, redness and discomfort, plus it may help to prevent infections or scarring. It’s been found to contain chemicals including linalyl acetate and linalool, which are considered to be very mild compounds with a long history of safely promoting wound healing and skin health. (9)

7. Stay Hydrated & Eat Soft, Bland Foods

Some people with chicken pox will develop a fever, feel nauseated or deal with vomiting, become dehydrated or lose their appetite. You can help prevent dehydration symptoms by drinking fluids throughout the day (especially lots of plain water or herbal tea) and by eating hydrating foods, in particular fruits and veggies.

A bland diet is usually best to prevent nausea and vomiting while overcoming chicken pox, so try to avoid eating overly-processed, heavy or spicy foods. Eating nutrient-dense, healthy foods will enhance your immune system and boost your ability to help fight off the virus quickly. So, as much as possible, eat foods high in vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin A and all sorts of antioxidants.

If sores develop inside your mouth due to chicken pox, then eat mostly soft, easily-digested foods that aren’t so painful to swallow. Helpful foods and drinks to have while you’re recovering from chicken pox include:

  • bone broth
  • puréed veggies
  • light soups
  • fruit smoothies
  • applesauce
  • mashed sweet potatoes
  • oatmeal
  • yogurt
  • kefir

8. Antiviral Herbs & Supplements

To give your immune system a boost and support recovery you can take the following antiviral herbs and supplements when you have chicken pox: (10)

  • Vitamin C
  • Echinacea
  • Elderberry
  • Calendula
  • Garlic
  • Astralagus Root

9. Take an Over-the-Counter Pain Medication If Needed

If your fever becomes very high or you experience other symptoms like body aches, headaches or a stiff neck, then you can take an OTC painkiller to relieve chicken pox discomfort. The safest options are acetaminophen or ibuprofen. But be aware that you should never take aspirin if you have chicken pox (or give it to your children), as this is associated with serious complications, including Reye’s syndrome.

Natural painkillers like peppermint essential oil or Epsom salts added to a warm soaking bath can help ease body aches and swelling. If your skin feels very inflamed and itchy, then you might also want to take an OTC antihistamine, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl). Additionally, you can apply an OTC antihistamine lotion to itchy areas of the skin, such as calamine lotion (the pink lotion that is commonly used on mosquito bites).

Precautions When Treating Chicken Pox

As mentioned above, chicken pox treatment is usually straightforward and doesn’t normally require medical intervention. There are certain circumstances, however, in which someone with chicken pox should get emergency care — for example, if the person is pregnant, nursing, immunodeficient or younger than 6 months old.

To reduce the risk for complications, it’s important to visit a doctor or even the emergency room right away if you notice any of the following serious signs and symptoms associated with chicken pox complications:

  • A rash that develops into an infection, becoming very swollen, warm, tender or painful.
  • High fever (higher than 102 F or 38.9 C)
  • Neurological problems and changes
  • Severe vomiting, very stiff neck, dizziness, disorientation, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, or tremors.

Key Points

  • Chicken pox is the common name for the varicella-zoster virus, which causes symptoms like a very itchy, highly-contagious skin rash, fever, abdominal pains, body aches, headaches and general discomfort.
  • Most of the time chicken pox will not need to be treated by a doctor; you can usually find relief with natural chicken pox treatment. However, sometimes complications are possible in which treatments like antiviral medications may be needed.

9 Home Remedies for Natural Chicken Pox Treatment

  1. Don’t scratch.
  2. Apply a cool compress.
  3. Take an oatmeal bath.
  4. Apply baking soda, apple cider vinegar, honey or an antihistamine lotion.
  5. Use neem and jojoba oils.
  6. Apply essential oils.
  7. Use antiviral herbs and supplements to boost immune function.
  8. Stay hydrated and eat a bland diet.
  9. If all else fails, or you have a fever, try OTC pain medicine. Don’t take aspirin.

Read Next: What Is Hand, Foot & Mouth Disease? + 17 Natural Treatments

Prevention and Treatment

On This Page

  • Prevention
  • Treatments at Home
  • Treatments Prescribed by Your Doctor

Prevention

The best way to prevent chickenpox is to get the chickenpox vaccine. Everyone – including children, adolescents, and adults – should get two doses of chickenpox vaccine if they have never had chickenpox or were never vaccinated.

Chickenpox vaccine is very safe and effective at preventing the disease. Most people who get the vaccine will not get chickenpox. If a vaccinated person does get chickenpox, the symptoms are usually milder with fewer or no blisters (they may have just red spots) and mild or no fever.

The chickenpox vaccine prevents almost all cases of severe illness. Since the varicella vaccination program began in the United States, there has been over 90% decrease in chickenpox cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.

For more information about chickenpox vaccine, see Vaccination.

Treatments at Home for People with Chickenpox

There are several things that you can do at home to help relieve chickenpox symptoms and prevent skin infections. Calamine lotion and a cool bath with added baking soda, uncooked oatmeal, or colloidal oatmeal may help relieve some of the itching. Try to minimize scratching to prevent the virus from spreading to others and potential bacterial infection from occurring. Keeping fingernails trimmed short may help prevent skin infections caused by scratching blisters.

Over-the-counter Medications

Do not use aspirin or aspirin-containing products to relieve fever from chickenpox. The use of aspirin in children with chickenpox has been associated with Reye’s syndrome, a severe disease that affects the liver and brain and can cause death. Instead, use non-aspirin medications, such as acetaminophen, to relieve fever from chickenpox. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends avoiding treatment with ibuprofen if possible because it has been associated with life-threatening bacterial skin infections.

When to Call a Healthcare Provider

For people exposed to chickenpox, call a healthcare provider if the person:

  • Has never had chickenpox and is not vaccinated with the chickenpox vaccine
  • Is pregnant
  • Has a weakened immune system caused by disease or medication; for example:
    • A person with HIV/AIDS or cancer,
    • A person who has had a transplant, or
    • A person on chemotherapy, immunosuppressive medications, or long-term use of steroids.

Call a healthcare provider if:

  1. The person is at risk of serious complications because he or she:
    • Is less than 1 year old
    • Is older than 12 years of age
    • Has a weakened immune system
    • Is pregnant

OR

  1. The person develops any of the following symptoms:
    • Fever that lasts longer than 4 days
    • Fever that rises above 102°f (38.9°c)
    • Any areas of the rash or any part of the body becomes very red, warm, or tender, or begins leaking pus (thick, discolored fluid), as these symptoms may indicate a bacterial infection
    • Difficult waking up or confused behavior
    • Difficulty walking
    • Stiff neck
    • Frequent vomiting
    • Difficulty breathing
    • Severe cough
    • Severe abdominal pain
    • Rash with bleeding or bruising (hemorrhagic rash)

Treatments Prescribed by Your Doctor for People with Chickenpox

Your healthcare provider can advise you on treatment options. Antiviral medications are recommended for people with chickenpox that are more likely to develop serious illness, including:

  • Otherwise healthy people older than 12 years of age
  • People with chronic skin or lung disease
  • People receiving long-term salicylate therapy or steroid therapy
  • Pregnant women
  • People with a weakened immune system

There are antiviral medications licensed for treatment of chickenpox. The medication works best if it is given as early as possible, preferably within the first 24 hours after the rash starts. For more information, see Acyclovir Treatment.

Top of Page

How to care for children with chickenpox

Chickenpox is a highly contagious disease caused by a virus. Although the incidence of chickenpox has declined significantly since the development of the chickenpox vaccine, there are still children who develop chickenpox every year. Fortunately, there is a lot parents can do at home to help ease their children’s symptoms and prevent skin infections.

The most common symptom of chickenpox is a rash that turns into itchy, fluid-filled blisters and then scabs. The rash usually shows up on the face, chest and back first and then spreads to the rest of the body.

Other signs and symptoms of chickenpox may include:

  • Fever

  • Tiredness

  • Loss of appetite

  • Headache

To help care for children with chickenpox, dermatologists recommend the following tips:

  1. Keep your child at home. Since chickenpox is contagious, keep your child at home or limit their exposure to other people until all of their chickenpox blisters have formed scabs and no new blisters develop. It usually takes about a week for the blisters to become scabs.

  2. Soak in colloidal oatmeal baths. Available at your local drugstore, colloidal oatmeal will help relieve some of the itch. Add the oatmeal under the faucet while the tub is filling with lukewarm – not hot – water.

  3. After bathing, apply a topical ointment, such as calamine lotion, petroleum jelly or another fragrance-free, anti-itch lotion. Avoid over-the-counter topical antibiotics as they may cause an allergic reaction.

  4. Relieve fever. Use non-aspirin medications, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Do not use aspirin or products that contain aspirin with chickenpox. The use of aspirin in children with chickenpox has been associated with Reye’s syndrome – a severe disease that affects the liver and brain and can cause death.

  5. Relieve itchiness. Consider giving your child an over-the-counter oral antihistamine for children. Always follow the directions on the label, and use the correct dose.

  6. Keep your child’s fingernails trimmed short. This will help prevent skin infections caused by scratching the blisters. For young children, put socks or mittens over their hands to prevent scratching. To limit scarring, make sure your child doesn’t pick at his or her chickenpox.

For most healthy children, chickenpox clears on its own without treatment. However, see a board-certified dermatologist if you have a newborn with chickenpox or if your child has a weakened immune system, has trouble breathing or if any of the blisters become infected.

  • Larger text sizeLarge text sizeRegular text size

Chickenpox is a viral infection that causes fever and an itchy rash with spots all over the body.

It used to be a common childhood illness in the United States, especially in kids under age 12. It’s much rarer now, thanks to the varicella vaccine.

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Chickenpox?

Chickenpox often starts without the classic rash, with a fever, headache, sore throat, or stomachache. These symptoms may last for a few days, with the fever in the 101°–102°F (38.3°–38.8°C) range.

The red, itchy skin rash usually starts on the belly or back and face. Then it spreads to almost everywhere else on the body, including the scalp, mouth, arms, legs, and genitals.

The rash begins as many small red bumps that look like pimples or insect bites. They appear in waves over 2 to 4 days, then develop into thin-walled blisters filled with fluid. The blister walls break, leaving open sores, which finally crust over to become dry, brown scabs.

All three stages of the chickenpox rash (red bumps, blisters, and scabs) appear on the body at the same time. The rash may spread wider or be more severe in kids who have weak immune systems or skin disorders like eczema.

What Causes Chickenpox?

Chickenpox is caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). This virus also can cause a painful skin rash called shingles (herpes zoster) later in life. After someone has had chickenpox, the virus stays dormant (resting) in the nervous system for the rest of their life. The virus can reactivate (“wake up”) later as shingles.

Kids who are vaccinated against chickenpox are much less likely to develop shingles when they get older.

Is Chickenpox Contagious?

Chickenpox is very contagious. Most kids with a sibling who’s infected also will get it (if they haven’t already had the infection or the vaccine), showing symptoms about 2 weeks after the first child does.

Someone with chickenpox can spread the virus:

  • through droplets in the air by coughing or sneezing
  • in their mucus, saliva (spit), or fluid from the blisters

Chickenpox is contagious from about 2 days before the rash starts until all the blisters are crusted over.

Someone with shingles can spread chickenpox (but not shingles) to people who haven’t had chickenpox or the vaccine.

Because chickenpox is so contagious, a child who has it should stay home and rest until the rash is gone and all blisters have dried. This usually takes about 1 week. If you’re unsure about whether your child is ready to return to school, ask your doctor.

What Problems Can Happen?

Some people are more at risk for complications from chickenpox, including:

  • pregnant women
  • newborns born to mothers who had chickenpox
  • patients with leukemia
  • kids receiving medicines that suppress the immune system
  • anyone with immune system problems

If they are exposed to chickenpox, they might be given a medicine (zoster immune globulin) to make the illness less severe.

Can Chickenpox Be Prevented?

Yes. Most people who get the chickenpox vaccine will not get chickenpox. Doctors recommend that kids get the chickenpox vaccine as:

  1. a first shot when they’re 12–15 months old
  2. a booster shot when they’re 4–6 years old

People 13 years of age and older who have never had chickenpox and aren’t vaccinated should get two doses of the vaccine at least 28 days apart.

Kids who have had chickenpox do not need the vaccine — they usually have lifelong protection against the illness.

How Is Chickenpox Diagnosed?

Doctors usually can diagnose chickenpox by looking at the telltale rash.

Call your doctor if you think your child has chickenpox. The doctor can guide you in watching for complications and in choosing medicine to ease itching.

If you take your child to the doctor, let the staff know ahead of time that your child might have chickenpox. It’s important not to expose other kids in the office — for some of them, a chickenpox infection could cause serious complications.

How Is Chickenpox Treated?

A

causes chickenpox, so antibiotics can’t treat it. But antibiotics are needed if infect the sores. This can happen when kids scratch and pick at the blisters.

An antiviral medicine might be prescribed for people with chickenpox who are at risk for complications. The depends on the:

  • child’s age and health
  • extent of the infection
  • timing of the treatment

Your doctor can tell you if the medicine is right for your child.

How Can I Help My Child Feel Better?

To help relieve the itchiness and discomfort of chickenpox:

  • Use cool wet compresses or give baths in lukewarm water every 3–4 hours for the first few days. Oatmeal bath products, available at supermarkets and drugstores, can help to relieve itching. (Baths do not spread the rash.)
  • Pat (don’t rub) the body dry.
  • Put calamine lotion on itchy areas (but don’t use it on the face, especially near the eyes).
  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist about pain-relieving creams to apply to sores in the genital area.
  • Ask the doctor about using over-the-counter medicine to take by mouth for itching.

To prevent scratching:

  • Put mittens or gloves on your child’s hands to avoid scratching during sleep.
  • Trim fingernails and keep them clean.

If your child has blisters in the mouth:

  • Give cold, soft, bland foods because chickenpox in the mouth can make it hard to drink or eat. Avoid anything acidic or salty, like orange juice or pretzels.
  • Give your child acetaminophen to help relieve pain.

Never give aspirin to kids with chickenpox. It can lead to a serious illness called Reye syndrome.

When Should I Call the Doctor?

Most chickenpox infections don’t need special medical treatment. But sometimes, problems can happen. Call the doctor if your child:

  • has a fever that lasts for more than 4 days
  • has a severe cough or trouble breathing
  • has an area of rash that leaks pus (thick, yellowish fluid) or becomes red, warm, swollen, or sore
  • has a severe headache
  • is very drowsy or has trouble waking up
  • has trouble looking at bright lights
  • has trouble walking
  • seems confused
  • is vomiting
  • seems very ill
  • has a stiff neck

Reviewed by: Kate M. Cronan, MD Date reviewed: January 2019

Chickenpox (varicella)

What is chickenpox?

Chickenpox (also called varicella) causes an itchy, blistering skin rash and mild fever. It is usually a mild disease that lasts for a short time in healthy children, but it can be more severe in adults.

Chickenpox is a serious disease because it can cause scarring, pneumonia, brain damage and sometimes death. One in 33,000 people with chickenpox can develop encephalitis (brain inflammation).

After you have had chickenpox, the virus stays in your body. It can come back later in life and cause shingles (also called herpes zoster).

Chickenpox is caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes shingles.

What are the symptoms of chickenpox?

The main symptom is an itchy red rash that turns into blisters, which then burst and crust over. Chickenpox can also cause flu-like symptoms, such as fever, headache and sore throat.

Symptoms usually start about two weeks after catching chickenpox. The symptoms stay from between 10 to 21 days.

Who is at risk from chickenpox?

Chickenpox can affect people at any age.

Children usually have mild disease and recover quickly.

Adults, newborn babies and people who have a weakened immune system usually have a more severe illness from the virus.

During pregnancy, chickenpox can be serious for both the mother and the baby. Pregnant women who get chickenpox for the first time can have severe disease. The baby can be born with severe chickenpox, or have damage to their skin, limbs, eyes or nervous system.

Although some vaccinated children will still get chickenpox, they generally will have a much milder form of the disease and more rapid recovery. The vaccine almost always prevents against severe disease.

How do you get chickenpox?

Chickenpox spreads:

  • when an infected person coughs or sneezes, and you breathe in virus particles
  • by direct contact with the fluid from someone else’s chickenpox blisters.

Chickenpox is very contagious. It spreads easily through families, childcare centres and schools.

How do you prevent chickenpox?

Vaccination is the best protection against chickenpox.

The chickenpox vaccine prevents most, but not all, people getting chickenpox and complications caused by the disease. Immunised children who get chickenpox generally have a much milder form of the disease. They have fewer skin lesions, a lower fever and recover more quickly. Chickenpox vaccination also protects you from developing shingles later in life.

For more information on chickenpox immunisation, see Chickenpox immunisation service.

If you have chickenpox, you can help stop the disease spreading by:

  • staying away from childcare, school, work or other places where you could spread the infection – your doctor will tell you when you are no longer infectious
  • washing your hands often
  • covering your coughs and sneezes.

How do you know if you have chickenpox?

If you think you or one of your family members has chickenpox, see your doctor. Chickenpox is usually diagnosed by looking at the rash. It is important to let the receptionist know of your concern so that you can be separated from other people in the waiting room.

Your doctor may ask about your symptoms and whether you’ve been in contact with someone who has chickenpox. If your doctor thinks you have chickenpox, they can test some of the fluid from the blisters to see if it has the virus in it.

How do you get treated for chickenpox?

Chickenpox is usually mild and gets better on its own without any treatment.

You can relieve the symptoms by:

  • resting
  • having lukewarm baths with baking soda or oatmeal in the water
  • using creams or lotions such as calamine lotion to reduce the itching
  • taking paracetamol to reduce fever.

If you have severe chickenpox, you may be given medicines to treat the virus.

Pregnant women who have not had the chickenpox disease or the chickenpox vaccine may be given medicines to help prevent infection. If you are pregnant and have been in contact with someone with chickenpox, speak to your doctor for advice.

More information

  • The National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance has resources for consumers.
  • See the Australian Immunisation Handbook for technical details.

Contacts

If you need advice or more information about immunisation, go to our Immunisation contacts page.

How to care for your child with chickenpox

Be liberal with skin ointments

Chickenpox spots can be extremely itchy, so make sure you stock up on some topical ointments to help soothe your child’s skin. Calamine lotion is often touted as the go-to cream when chickenpox spots break out. And it may well help reduce some of the itching. But there are other products available too that you might find more effective. I personally found that mousse-like foams work brilliantly. They’re much easier to apply to the skin than creams – and less messy. Whatever ointment you use, apply it generously, especially just before bedtime to help aid some sleep.

An antihistamine, such as chlorphenamine, may also help with the itching. These can be bought over the counter from a pharmacy. But don’t give this medicine to your child if they’re under one.

Be aware of throat and genital spots

Chickenpox spots commonly appear on the face, the trunk of the body, and the arms and legs. But they can also develop in areas that aren’t so easy to spot, such as inside your child’s mouth, their throat and on their genitals. These can be exceptionally sore, but not always immediately obvious. If your child isn’t at the stage of talking, it can be hard for them to communicate where they have pain or itching. Offer your child soft, cool/cold foods, such as ice-cream, yoghurt and fruit smoothies.

If your little one has spots on their genitals, try to keep that area as clean and dry as possible. Swift nappy changes are key. They’re likely to become upset during a nappy change if they’re sore. But what’s important is hygiene and cleanliness to avoid infection in an already hard-to-treat area. Be gentle and speak softly to them during the change, with a big cuddle afterwards. After baths, gently pat the area dry and apply ointment to ease their itchiness.

Regular oatmeal baths

Although there isn’t any strong evidence for its use for chickenpox, I did find that oatmeal baths really helped Maggie. Put a handful of oats into a muslin cloth, sock or tea towel, and tie it closed tightly. Submerge the package in a warm bath, giving it a squeeze now and then, and let your child soak for a while. Make sure you dry your child’s skin thoroughly after a bath (pat not rub) and apply lots of ointment before bed. Loose clothing, day and night, is also a great idea for little ones with chickenpox, as it’s comfortable on the skin.

Ease the fever with paracetamol

You may well have seen some coverage about not using ibuprofen for chickenpox. And there is truth in it – stick to paracetamol (eg, Calpol) to reduce your child’s fever and pain during chickenpox. With ibuprofen, there is a risk it can cause skin reactions in people with the chickenpox virus. Also, don’t use aspirin.

Keep your child’s fluid levels up, especially if they have a fever. Offer them water regularly, and place a cup or beaker of water by the side of their bed when they go to sleep in case they need a drink during the night.

When to seek medical advice or urgent help

Chickenpox is usually relatively mild and can be dealt with at home. But as with most illnesses, there is always a chance of complications. If your child has breathing difficulties, is drowsy or has a very high fever that won’t drop, contact your GP or call 111 for advice. The NHS 111 service is brilliant and they’ll be able to assess your child’s condition before advising what to do – whether it’s seeing a doctor or calling an ambulance.

For more information about complications of chickenpox, see our Bupa topic page.

I really hope my tips on how to care for your child with chickenpox will help you. Chickenpox is almost inevitable if you have children, and although it isn’t always very nice for them, it’s usually harmless and spots will clear up within a week. But always contact your GP or seek urgent advice if you’re at all worried about your child.

Here at Bupa we understand how important your family is. So with our family health insurance you can rest assured knowing that eligible treatment and support is available for your loved ones when you need it.

If your child catches chickenpox or the measles, they will more than likely struggle with itching and feel irritable and under the weather for a week or two, but if managed properly your child should recover from both before long. But in the meantime, what’s the best way to treat the painful itching?

Our resident pharmacist Rita Ghelani speaks to GP Dr Sarah Jarvis, consultant in infectious diseases Dr Sarah Wakelin, and consultant paediatrician Dr Gareth Tudor-Williams about how to manage these common but uncomfortable childhood illnesses:

The difference between chickenpox and measles

Chickenpox and measles are common childhood illnesses caused by different viruses that both result in a rash. While both chickenpox and measles are highly contagious, The duration of the two viruses differ and a child with chickenpox is likely to feel a lot less sick compared to a child with measles, and measles symptoms may last longer. However, treatments for chickenpox and measles are more or less the same.

• Chickenpox

Known medically as varicella, chickenpox is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which is highly contagious and spreads quickly. Early symptoms of chickenpox include your child feeling generally unwell, losing their appetite and developing a fever. A red, spotty rash typically appears a couple of days later. This turns into fluid-filled blisters, which eventually scab over. Around 90 per cent of children catch chickenpox before they reach the age of four.

• Measles

Measles is on the rise, due to poor take-up of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination that was linked inaccurately to autism. Measles is more serious than chickenpox and can lead to complications such as hearing loss. In rare cases, it can prove fatal. The symptoms of measles include fever, red eyes, a red-brown spotty rash and sensitivity to light.

Related Story

Chickenpox and measles treatment tips

The rash that develops with both chickenpox and measles can be very uncomfortable, especially if the spots develop in sensitive areas. Treating the itching to help minimise scratching the rash will help to prevent scarring and reduce the risk of the spots getting infected.

The rash that develops with both chickenpox and measles can be very uncomfortable.

‘As measles and chickenpox are caused by viruses, there is no cure,’ says Dr Jarvis. ‘But most children will get better soon and there are things you can do to help relieve your child’s symptoms.’

Scratching blisters can lead to further infections, sleepless nights and permanent scarring, but there are several over-the-counter remedies to counter the itching outbreak. Try the following tips to treat both chickenpox and measles and your little one should start to feel better in a week or two:

Related Story

Isolate your child if they have chickenpox or measles

Both measles and chickenpox are highly contagious, so your child should remain at home. ‘When you first notice the spots, call your child’s nursery or school immediately,’ says Dr Wakelin.

Keep infected children away from pregnant women, newborn babies and relatives in hospital or anyone with a weak immune system, such as patients undergoing chemotherapy or individuals with HIV or AIDS. These groups of people could develop serious complications if they catch measles or chickenpox.

Keep your child cool

It’s important that you keep your child cool because heat and sweat can make the itching worse.

‘Dress your child in light, loose fitting cotton clothing and keep bedding to a minimum, so they don’t get too hot,’ says Dr Jarvis.’ Sweaty skin is more likely to feel irritated and uncomfortable.’

Related Story

Keep hydration levels topped up

Make sure that your child drinks plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Mix in some orange, pineapple or grape juice if you struggle to persuade them to drink plain water.

Avoid salty foods, which can make sore throats feel worse. Serve soup, which is nutritious and easy to swallow – but don’t serve it too hot.

Sugar-free ice lollies will cheer up your sick child, soothe a sore throat and are a good way of keeping them hydrated.

Stop your child from scratching

Avoid scratching the blisters because of the risk of infection. Trim your child’s fingernails and keep them clean and short to prevent them from scratching the itchy fluid-filled blisters, which causes skin damage. You can also place scratch mitts or socks over your child’s hands at night to stop scratching.

‘The red spots of chickenpox are very itchy and scratching can lead to infection and eventually scarring – so it is important to break the itch/scratch cycle,’ recommends Dr Tudor-Williams.

Related Story

Reduce fever with paracetamol

If your child is in pain or has a fever you can give them paracetamol (eg Calpol). Follow the dosage instructions provided in the leaflet.

‘Infant paracetamol reduces your child’s fever. Your local pharmacist can advise how much is appropriate for your child’s age,’ says Dr Jarvis.

Don’t give small children ibuprofen or aspirin. Light-sensitive children with measles may also prefer a darkened bedroom.

Use calamine lotion to soothe itching

Try aqueous calamine cream or calamine lotion on the spots. Aqueous calamine cream is easier to apply then calamine lotion as it has a thicker consistency.

‘Calamine lotion, which contains zinc oxide, provides a temporary soothing cooling effect, but tends to crust over and be messy,’ says Dr Wakelin.

Products to ease chickenpox symptoms

Piriteze Antihistamine Allergy Relief Tablets Piriteze amazon.co.uk Poxclin Cool Mousse for Children with Chickenpox Poxclin amazon.co.uk Care Aqueous Calamine Cream Care amazon.co.uk Bath & Shower Oil with Colloidal Oatmeal Aveeno amazon.co.uk

Try cooling gels to relieve scratching

Cooling gels, such as Virasoothe, are also pleasant to use and don’t sting. Virasoothe lessens the urge to scratch blisters and encourages healing by reducing infection. Long-term scarring is reduced and a less uncomfortable child will be able to sleep better.

‘Virasoothe helps to hydrate skin and cool itchy lesions by drawing moisture up to the surface,’ says Dr Wakelin. This gel can safely be applied to both body and face and is available in pharmacies. It is suitable for children over 6 months old.

Antihistamine to ease itching and aid sleep

To help ease the itching and soothe the spots, use an antihistamine such as chlorphenamine (for children aged one year and older).

In attacks of chickenpox or measles where the itching is so serious that the child’s sleep is disturbed, antihistamines such as piriton which has a sedative effect can be used. Getting a good night’s sleep aids healing and will make your child feel less grouchy.

‘To help your child get to sleep, a sedating antihistamine may be useful before bed,’ suggests Dr Jarvis. ‘Ask your pharmacist for their advice about which products are suitable for your child’s age-group.’

Related Story

Try oatmeal baths to relieve itchy skin

Giving your toddler a cool bath can help relieve itching. Try using an oatmeal bath product, such as Aveeno bath oil or sprinkle finely ground oatmeal into a tub of warm, running water to soothe itchy chickenpox skin. Oatmeal makes the bath slippery, so help your child in and out.

Cool sponging may also help to cool children down. Adding a small cup of baking soda to bathwater can also relieve itching. After a bath pat the skin dry rather than rub, then apply aqueous calamine cream to the spots.

When should you visit the doctor?

Ring your GP instead of visiting the surgery, to prevent the spread of infection.

‘If you think that you or your child has measles or chickenpox, call your GP, especially if your child is under four weeks old, has infected skin blisters or is experiencing breathing difficulties or chest pains,’ says Dr Jarvis

Related Story Rita Ghelani (BPharm, MRPharmS) Pharmacist A UK registered practising pharmacist with over 20 years’ experience, Rita is a member of the medical journalists’ association (MJA) and has a wealth of experience in community pharmacy.

About the author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *