advice

chickenpox in children:
symptoms and treatments

As an illness, chickenpox is so common that it's practically a rite of passage. It's easy to catch but also straightforward to treat and – happily – it's usually mild. Stock up on Calpol and calamine and be prepared for a week or so in quarantine.


baby with chicken pox

what are the symptoms of chickenpox?

The chickenpox rash appears in three stages. Raised red spots pop up on the face and chest, before spreading to other areas.


The next day, or even just a few hours later, itchy, fluid-filled blisters develop over the spots.


After a few more days, the blisters scab over to form crusts, which should drop off by themselves.


Your little one may also show signs of being generally unwell, such as a fever or loss of appetite. If you have any concerns about the symptoms or would just prefer to double-check, seek medical advice.



baby with chicken pox spots
child with chicken pox spots

how does chickenpox spread?

Chickenpox is spread through coughs and sneezes or any contact with the fluid in the spots. Your sociable little one could catch it through touching a friend who has the virus or even just by playing in the same room.


Chickenpox is a very sneaky virus, as you're contagious for two days before showing any symptoms – meaning it spreads easily through nurseries and schools. The patient continues to be infectious until all the blisters have crusted over – and then it’s back to sharing toys again.


how do you treat chickenpox?

Chickenpox is often very mild, and you should be able to treat it at home. Your spotty little one may have a raised temperature, an itchy rash and be a bit grouchy. Calpol will help with a fever, although don’t use ibuprofen-based medicines for chickenpox.


For the itchiness, good old-fashioned calamine lotion is still the best remedy and try to encourage gently patting the skin rather than scratching (easier said than done, but worth the effort as scratched blisters can become infected). Keep your baby or toddler hydrated with plenty of soothing drinks.


do we need any medical help?

Many children sail through chickenpox with nothing more serious than itchiness and a bit of boredom from being quarantined.


However, you should seek medical advice if the symptoms don’t improve after six days or if your poorly baby or toddler shows signs of swollen and painful skin, breathing difficulties or dehydration. These could be signs of a bacterial skin infection or pneumonia – but these are rarer in younger patients. If your baby is under four weeks old and has chickenpox, give your GP a call.


can adults catch chickenpox from children?

Yes they can, even if you had it as a child, and adults tend to experience worse symptoms too but hopefully, you won’t catch it from your little spotty patient.


If you’re pregnant and come into contact with a chickenpox carrier, seek medical advice as the infection could spread to your unborn baby.


Likewise, anyone with a weakened immune system needs to let their GP know. Shingles is caused by the same virus as chickenpox and mostly affects adults, although you can’t catch shingles from chickenpox.


Approved by: Elizabeth Day - Mothercare's in-house parenting consultant for 15 years. Experience; NHS maternity nurse, children's centre support worker, degree in clinical and biopsychology from Birkbeck, University of London, degree in child development from the University of Nottingham.


Last reviewed: May 2019


References:

Chickenpox, NHS, May 2017.

Chickenpox in children, Patient, M Harding, March 2018.

Chickenpox (Varicella), Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, December 2018.

Can I get chickenpox more than once? NHS, November 2018.