Symptoms of chickenpox 

The most commonly recognised chickenpox symptom is a spotty, blistering red rash that can cover the entire body.

However, even before the rash appears, you or your child may have some mild flu-like symptoms, including:

  • feeling sick
  • a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or over
  • aching, painful muscles
  • headache
  • generally feeling unwell
  • loss of appetite

These flu-like symptoms, especially the fever, tend to be more common and worse in adults than in children.

Chickenpox spots

Soon after the flu-like symptoms, an itchy rash appears. Some children and adults may only have a few spots, but others are covered from head to toe.

The spots normally appear in clusters and tend to be:

  • behind the ears
  • on the face
  • over the scalp
  • on the chest and belly
  • on the arms and legs

However, the spots can be anywhere on the body, even inside the ears and mouth, on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet and inside the nappy area.

Although the rash starts as small, itchy red spots, these develop a blister on top and become intensely itchy after about 12-14 hours.

After a day or two, the fluid in the blisters gets cloudy and they begin to dry out and crust over.

After one to two weeks, the crusting skin will fall off naturally.

New spots can keep appearing in waves for three to five days after the rash begins. Therefore, different clusters of spots may be at different stages of blistering or drying out. 

Read more about how to ease the itchiness and other symptoms of chickenpox in our section on chickenpox treatments.

Find out what you can do to stop chickenpox spreading.

Unusual symptoms

Most healthy children (and adults) recover from chickenpox with no lasting ill-effects simply by resting, just as with a cold or the flu.

However, some children and adults are unlucky and have a more severe bout.

Contact your GP straight away if you or your child develop any abnormal symptoms, such as:

  • the skin surrounding the blisters becoming red and painful 
  • pain in the chest or difficulty breathing
  • signs of dehydration, such as fewer wet nappies, drowsiness and cold hands and feet

In cases such as this, prescription medicine or hospital treatment may be needed.

Read more about chickenpox complications.




Tips for parents

See the pregnancy and baby guide for practical advice about all aspects of parenting, plus videos and interactive tools to help you and your child stay healthy.

Page last reviewed: 28/07/2014

Next review due: 28/07/2016