In most cases, chickenpox does not require medical treatment. The body’s own immune system will gradually recognize and fight off the virus. Symptoms typically resolve on their own within 5 to 7 days. Chickenpox treatments therefore mainly consist the easing of symptoms until the infection subsides.
1. Relieve itching and reduce scratching
Chickenpox can be very itchy, but it’s important that you do not scratch the rashes. Keeping nails short or wearing gloves should help reduce scratching. You can consider putting gloves or socks on your child’s hands at night. This is important as scratching can introduce bacteria into the skin and can potentially lead to a secondary infection and/or scarring. If the itching is severe, or you suspect that a secondary infection might have occurred, then you should see a doctor. There are certain methods you can try to reduce itching:
Lotions, gels, and creams
Using calamine lotion can help reduce itching of the chickenpox rashes. Calamine lotion has some evidence behind its use and is one of the first things you should try. Other cooling gels, lotions, and creams, such as aloe vera, and certain oils (for example lavender oil or tea tree oil), have been recommended as remedial ways to reduce itching, although there is not sufficient scientific evidence to suggest using these.
Cold showers and cold sponging can help reduce skin irritation/soreness and itching. After the shower, it is important that you do not rub the skin with a towel. Instead, you should pat it dry.
Over-the-counter antihistamines, which are available at most pharmacies, can be used to reduce itching. Antihistamines are also available for children, although licensing would depend on the country you live in. You should ask your pharmacist for advice about this.
Oatmeal bath for chickenpox
An “oatmeal bath for chickenpox” has also been proposed as a way to reduce itching. It involves running a normal bath with warm water and sprinkling finely ground oatmeal into it. Adding baking soda to the bath can also help. The person should then soak in it for at least 15 minutes. You can then pat the skin dry with a towel after the bath.
2. Reduce Fever
Paracetamol can be used to reduce fever caused by chickenpox. Additionally, taking paracetamol can also help reduce pain and discomfort. Paracetamol can be used for symptom-control in both children and adults. Note that you should avoid ibuprofen and as it can make the condition get worse. Aspirin should never be used in anyone under 16.
3. Maintain good hygiene
It is important to maintain cleanliness throughout the infection, even if a fever is present. The skin should be washed daily to clean it from bacteria which can cause secondary infections.
4. Wear loose-fitting, cotton clothes
Wearing loose-fitting, cotton clothes will help prevent clothes rubbing against the blisters, thus preventing aggravating the skin any further.
5. Drink plenty of fluids
It is important to drink plenty of fluids throughout the infection, as this will prevent dehydration. Water is the best option in this case – you should avoid sugary, acidic or fizzy drinks, as these can lead to irritation of the mouth.
6. Gargling with salt water
If there are rashes in the mouth, gargling with salt water should provide some relief. Ice lollies can also help reduce soreness of the mouth, and are a great way to increase fluid intake!
7. Take a couple of days off school/work
Chickenpox is extremely contagious and can pose a serious risk to pregnant women who have not had the virus before (or been vaccinated), individuals that are immunocompromised (have weaker immune systems), and newborn babies. It is recommended to stay home until you’ve stopped getting any new rashes, and at least 5 days after the first rashes appeared.
You should see a doctor if:
- there are signs of infection – the skin around the blisters appears inflamed, painful and hot
- there are signs of dehydration
- the symptoms appear to be getting worse
- symptoms don’t improve
- you are an adult
- you are immunocompromised
- you are pregnant and have not had chickenpox before or been vaccinated against it
- you think a newborn baby has chickenpox