Chickenpox is common and mostly affects children, although you can get it at any age. It usually gets better by itself after 1 to 2 weeks without needing to see a GP.
At the moment it can be hard to know what to do if your child is unwell.
It's important to trust your instincts and get medical help if you need it.
Check if it's chickenpox
You might get symptoms before or after the spots appear, including:
- a high temperature
- aches and pains, and generally feeling unwell
- loss of appetite
Chickenpox is very itchy and can make children feel miserable, even if they do not have many spots. Chickenpox is usually much worse in adults.
It's possible to get chickenpox more than once, although it's unusual.
If you're not sure it's chickenpox
How to treat chickenpox at home
You'll need to stay away from school, nursery or work until all the spots have crusted over.
This is usually 5 days after the spots appeared.
drink plenty of fluid (try ice lollies if your child is not drinking) to avoid dehydration
take paracetamol to help with pain and discomfort
put socks on your child's hands at night to stop scratching
cut your child's nails
use cooling creams or gels from a pharmacy
speak to a pharmacist about using antihistamine medicine to help itching
bathe in cool water and pat the skin dry (do not rub)
dress in loose clothes
check with your airline if you're going on holiday – many airlines will not allow you to fly with chickenpox
do not use ibuprofen unless advised to do so by a doctor, as it may cause serious skin infections
do not give aspirin to children under 16
do not be around pregnant women, newborn babies and people with a weakened immune system, as chickenpox can be dangerous for them
Non-urgent advice: Speak to a GP if:
- you're not sure it's chickenpox
- the skin around the blisters is red, hot or painful (signs of infection)
- your child is dehydrated
- you're concerned about your child or they get worse
Tell the receptionist you think it's chickenpox before going in.
They may recommend a special appointment time if other patients are at risk.
Urgent advice: Get advice from 111 now if:
- you're an adult and have chickenpox
- you're pregnant and have not had chickenpox before and have been near someone with it
- you have a weakened immune system and have been near someone with chickenpox
- you think your newborn baby has chickenpox
You may need medicine to prevent complications. You need to take it within 24 hours of the spots appearing.
111 will tell you what to do. They can arrange a phone call from a nurse or doctor if you need one.
Other ways to get help
Get an urgent GP appointment
A GP may be able to treat you.
Ask your GP surgery for an urgent appointment.
It's easy to catch chickenpox
You can catch chickenpox by being in the same room as someone with it. It's also spread by touching clothes or bedding that has fluid from the blisters on them.
How long chickenpox is infectious for
Chickenpox is infectious from 2 days before the spots appear, until they have all crusted over – usually 5 days after they first appeared.
How soon you get symptoms after coming into contact with chickenpox
It takes 1 to 3 weeks from the time you were exposed to chickenpox for the spots to start appearing.
Chickenpox in pregnancy
It's rare to get chickenpox when you're pregnant, and the chance of it causing complications is low.
If you do get chickenpox when you're pregnant, there's a small risk of your baby being very ill when it's born.
Speak to a GP if you have not had chickenpox and have been near someone with it.
The chickenpox vaccine
You can get the chickenpox vaccine on the NHS if there's a risk of harming someone with a weakened immune system if you spread the virus to them.
For example, a child can be vaccinated if 1 of their parents is having chemotherapy.
You can also pay for the vaccine at some private clinics or travel clinics. It costs between £120 and £200.
Shingles and chickenpox
You cannot catch shingles from someone with chickenpox.
You can catch chickenpox from someone with shingles if you have not had chickenpox before.
When you get chickenpox, the virus stays in your body. The virus can be triggered again if your immune system is weak. This cause shingles.
This can happen because of stress, certain conditions, or treatments like chemotherapy.
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Page last reviewed: 27 November 2020
Next review due: 27 November 2023