Most often, health care providers find out you have chickenpox based on the rash.
Chickenpox also can be confirmed with lab tests, including blood tests or a tissue study of samples of affected skin.
In otherwise healthy children, chickenpox often needs no medical treatment. Some children may be able to take a type of medicine called an antihistamine to calm itching. But for the most part, the disease just needs to run its course.
If you're at high risk of complications
For people who are at high risk of complications from chickenpox, providers sometimes prescribe medicines to shorten the length of the illness and to help lower the risk of complications.
If you or your child is at high risk of complications, your provider may suggest antiviral medicine to fight the virus, such as acyclovir (Zovirax, Sitavig). This medicine may lessen the symptoms of chickenpox. But they work best when given within 24 hours after the rash first appears.
Other antiviral drugs, such as valacyclovir (Valtrex) and famciclovir, also might make the illness less severe. But these may not be approved or right for everyone. In some cases, your provider may suggest that you get the chickenpox vaccine after you've been exposed to the virus. This can prevent the disease or help make it less severe.
If you or your child gets complications, your provider will figure out the right treatment. For example, antibiotics can treat infected skin and pneumonia. Brain swelling, also called encephalitis, is often treated with antiviral medicine. Treatment in the hospital may be needed.
Lifestyle and home remedies
To help ease the symptoms of mild chickenpox, you can follow these self-care tips.
Try not to scratch
Scratching the skin can cause scarring and slow healing. It also can raise the risk that the sores will get infected. If your child can't stop scratching, trim your child's fingernails. It also may help to put gloves on a child's hands, especially at night.
Relieve the itch and other symptoms
The chickenpox rash can be very itchy, and broken blisters called vesicles sometimes sting. For relief of these and other symptoms, you can try:
- A cool bath with added baking soda, aluminum acetate or uncooked oatmeal. Or you could add colloidal oatmeal, a finely ground oatmeal that is made for soaking.
- Calamine lotion dabbed on the itchy spots.
- A soft, bland diet if chickenpox sores form in the mouth.
- Antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) for itching. But ask your provider if your child can safely take antihistamines.
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol) for a mild fever.
Call your provider if a fever lasts longer than four days and is higher than 102 F (38.9 C). And don't give aspirin to children and teenagers who have chickenpox. This can lead to a serious medical problem called Reye's syndrome.
Talk with your provider before you give any type of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), to someone who has chickenpox. Some studies suggest this type of medicine may lead to skin infections or tissue damage.
Preparing for your appointment
Call your family health care provider if you or your child has symptoms of chickenpox. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment.
Information to gather in advance
- Pre-appointment safety measures. Ask if you or your child should follow any restrictions before the checkup, such as staying away from other people.
- Symptom history. Write down any symptoms you or your child has had, and for how long.
- Recent exposure to people who might have had chickenpox. Try to remember if you or your child has been exposed to anyone who might have had the disease in the last few weeks.
- Key medical information. Include any other health problems and the names of any medicines you or your child is taking.
- Questions to ask your provider. Write down your questions so you can make the most of your time at the checkup.
Questions to ask your provider about chickenpox include:
- What is the most likely cause of these symptoms?
- Are there any other possible causes?
- What treatment do you suggest?
- How soon before the symptoms get better?
- Are there home remedies or self-care steps that could help relieve the symptoms?
- Am I or is my child contagious? For how long?
- How do we lower the risk of infecting others?
Feel free to ask any other questions.
What to expect from your doctor
Your provider may ask:
- What symptoms have you noticed, and when did they first appear?
- Do you know anyone who has had symptoms of chickenpox within the last few weeks?
- Have you had or has your child had a chickenpox vaccine? How many doses?
- Are you or is your child being treated? Or have you recently been treated for other medical problems?
- Do you or your child take any medicines, vitamins or supplements?
- Is your child in school or child care?
- Are you pregnant or breastfeeding?
What you can do in the meantime
Rest as much as possible. Try not to touch skin with chickenpox on it. And think about wearing a face mask over the nose and mouth in public. Chickenpox is highly contagious until skin blisters have fully crusted.