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First Aid: Chickenpox

Reviewed by: Kate M. Cronan, MD

First Aid

Chickenpox (varicella) is much less common in the U.S. than it used to be, thanks to the chickenpox vaccine. If someone does get chickenpox, the infection and the rash it causes will go away without treatment. But chickenpox spreads easily from person to person, so a child who has the should stay home until the rash is completely crusted over.

Signs and Symptoms

  • red bumps that look like pimples or insect bites
  • a small clear blister that develops on top of the red bumps
  • similar sores in the mouth
  • dry crusted sores that form over the blisters
  • an itchy rash that usually begins on the belly, back, or face and spreads to the arms and legs and other areas
  • fever and chills
  • muscle and joint pain
  • headache

What to Do

To help relieve symptoms:

  • Add 2 cups of oatmeal to a lukewarm bath. Pat (not rub) the body dry.
  • Put calamine lotion on itchy areas (but not on the face, especially near the eyes, or on the genitals).
  • Give an antihistamine (such as diphenhydramine [Benadryl, etc.]) for severe itching.
  • Give acetaminophen as needed for fever and to help relieve pain from the sores on the skin or in the mouth (do not give aspirin or ibuprofen).
  • To avoid a skin infection, try to keep your child from scratching the rash.

Get Medical Care if Your Child:

  • has a severe cough or trouble breathing
  • has an area of the rash that seems to be infected (is red, warm to the touch, or leaking pus)
  • is unusually drowsy or confused
  • seems very weak or ill
  • can't keep liquids down

Think Prevention!

To help prevent chickenpox, kids should get the chickenpox vaccine when they're 12 to 15 months old, and a booster shot when they're 4 to 6 years old.

Reviewed by: Kate M. Cronan, MD
Date reviewed: July 2018