Caring for your child with chickenpox
There is no cure for chickenpox, and the virus usually clears up by itself without any treatment.
However, there are ways of easing the itch and discomfort, and there are important steps you can take to stop chickenpox spreading.
If your child is in pain or has a high temperature (fever), you can give them a mild painkiller, such as paracetamol (available over the counter in pharmacies). Always read the manufacturer's dosage instructions.
Paracetamol is the preferred painkiller for treating the associated symptoms of chickenpox. This is due to a very small risk of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, causing adverse skin reactions during chickenpox.
Avoid giving your child ibuprofen if they have asthma or a history of stomach problems. If you're not sure whether ibuprofen is suitable, check with your GP or pharmacist. If your child is younger than three months old, you should always speak to your GP before giving your child any kind of pain relief.
Never give your child aspirin if you suspect or know that they have chickenpox (see box at the bottom of this page).
If you're pregnant and need to take painkillers, then paracetamol is the first choice. You can use it at any stage of pregnancy. Only take ibuprofen during the second trimester (weeks 14-27 of the pregnancy).
If you're pregnant and have chickenpox, you should visit your GP as soon as possible. You may need to have antiviral medicine or immunoglobulin treatment to prevent your symptoms from getting worse (see below).
It is important for children (and adults) with chickenpox to drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. Sugar-free ice lollies are a good way of getting fluids into children. They also help to soothe a sore mouth that has chickenpox spots in it.
Avoid anything that may make the mouth sore, such as salty foods. Soup is easy to swallow as long as it is not too hot.
Stop the scratching
Chickenpox can be incredibly itchy, but it's important for children (and adults) to not scratch the spots, to avoid future scarring.
One way of stopping scratching is to keep fingernails clean and short. You can also put socks over your child's hands at night to stop them scratching the rash as they sleep.
If your child's skin is very itchy or sore, try using calamine lotion or cooling gels. These are available in pharmacies and are very safe to use. They have a soothing, cooling effect.
A stronger medicine called chlorphenamine can also help to relieve the itching. It's available from your pharmacist over the counter or it can be prescribed by your GP. Chlorphenamine is taken by mouth and is suitable for children over one year old.
If your child has a fever, or if their skin is sore and aggravated, dress them appropriately so that they don't get too hot or too cold. Loose-fitting, smooth, cotton fabrics are best and will help stop the skin from becoming sore and irritated.
If your child has chickenpox, avoid sponging them down with cool water. This can make your child too cold and may make them shiver.
Aciclovir is an antiviral medicine that is sometimes given to people with chickenpox.
Aciclovir may be prescribed to:
- pregnant women
- adults, if they visit their GP within 24 hours of the rash appearing
- newborn babies
- people with a weakened immune system (the body’s defence system)
Ideally, aciclovir needs to be started within 24 hours of the rash appearing. It does not cure chickenpox, but it makes the symptoms less severe. You normally need to take the medicine as tablets five times a day for seven days.
If you are taking aciclovir, make sure you drink plenty of fluids. Side effects are rare, but can include nausea and diarrhoea.
Read more about antiviral treatment for chickenpox.
Immunoglobulin is a solution of antibodies that is taken from healthy donors. Varicella-zoster immunoglobulin (VZIG) contains antibodies to the chickenpox virus.
Immunoglobulin treatment is given by injection. It is not used to treat chickenpox, but to protect people who are at high risk of developing a severe chickenpox infection. This includes:
- pregnant women
- newborn babies
- people with weakened immune systems
In the case of pregnant women, immunoglobulin treatment also reduces the risk of the unborn baby becoming infected.
As the supply of VZIG is limited, it will only be considered if a high-risk person has:
- been significantly exposed to the virus – significant exposure could be face-to-face contact with someone who has chickenpox
- been in the same room for 15 minutes with someone who has chickenpox
- had a blood test to confirm that they've not had chickenpox before
In some cases, newborn babies may be given immunoglobulin treatment without having a blood test first.
Read more about immunoglobulin treatment for chickenpox and the complications of chickenpox.
Never give your child aspirin if you suspect or know that they have chickenpox.
Children with chickenpox who take aspirin can develop a potentially fatal condition called Reye's syndrome, which causes severe brain and liver damage.
Speak to your GP or pharmacist if you are not sure which medicines to give your child.
Page last reviewed: 28/07/2014
Next review due: 28/11/2016