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.