Chickenpox in all age-groups is caused by the varicella-zoster virus. As with children, the condition is typically mild and self-limiting. However, complications in adults are more common than in children. This is why it is recommended to always see a doctor if you are an adult and have developed chickenpox.
Symptoms of chickenpox in adults and adolescents are the same symptoms as those in other groups, although they can be more severe in adults. Symptoms mainly consist of the telltale chickenpox rashes, general malaise, fever, and nausea.
Treatment for chickenpox in adults is the same as the chickenpox treatment in other groups. However, adults and teenagers (typically over 14) that develop chickenpox are more likely to be prescribed antiviral medication, such as aciclovir, to limit the spread of the virus and prevent the development of complications. Antivirals do not kill the virus but act on viral reproduction to prevent the virus from spreading.
Adults can develop one or more of these complications with chickenpox
- A secondary infection (bacteria on the skin around the blisters can lead to an infection – inflammation that is spreading around the blisters, swelling, and soreness can suggest this)
- Pneumonia (infection of the lungs) occurs in 1 out of 10 adults with chickenpox. It is more common in patients that smoke.
- Arthritis (joint inflammation), appendicitis, encephalitis, myocarditis, orchitis and infection of other organs can occur, although this is much less common
You are at an even higher risk of developing complications if you are pregnant, immunocompromised and/or have existing conditions (such as cardiovascular disease, skin disease, and lung problems).
Signs to look out for
If you are an adult or adolescent that has been infected with chickenpox, you should consider the following warning signs of more serious complications:
- Persistent weakness/fatigue
- A severe headache
- Difficulty breathing
- Symptoms getting worse or not improving