Health advice

Chickenpox

Small, happy girl with chickenpox taking medicine in bed
Chickenpox is extremely common in childhood. It is very contagious and can cause itchy spots across the body. Learn how to manage chickenpox at home and when you may need advice from a GP or pharmacist.
What is chickenpox?

Chickenpox is a common illness. Anyone can catch it, but it is most common in children under 10 years old. It usually causes mild symptoms that take 1 to 2 weeks to clear.1

Chickenpox is caused by a virus called varicella-zoster. It is highly contagious, meaning it easily passes from person-to-person. 1

Chickenpox can be caught anytime. 1

What are the symptoms of chickenpox?

The most common symptom of chickenpox is a red, itchy rash across the body.1

The rash has 3 stages.2

  • Spots will appear on your child’s skin. The colour of the spots may be pink, red, or darker. They will look different depending on your skin tone.2
  • The spots turn into blisters. The blisters will feel very itchy. Sometimes, the blisters will burst.2
  • The blisters will scab over and may look flaky. Some scabs may leak fluid.2
  • Your child may not get any other symptoms but sometimes they may:

  • Have a high temperature of 38 °C or more
  • Feel generally unwell
  • Lose their appetite and feel nauseous
  • Have aching muscles and a headache.1
  • Sometimes, your child may have a severe reaction and you may need to contact your GP or 111 for more advice.1

    Call your GP or 111 if your child:

  • Has a chickenpox rash that is hot, red, or painful
  • Has chest pain or is struggling to breathe
  • Is drowsy and has cold hands or feet
  • Has blisters that look infected
  • Gets much worse suddenly
  • Is under 4 weeks old and has chickenpox.1
  • How do I manage chickenpox at home?

    Chickenpox can usually be managed at home. There are different ways you can improve your child’s symptoms.

    These include:

  • Making sure your child drinks plenty of water to avoid dehydration
  • Making sure your child wears loose fitting, smooth, cotton fabrics to avoid irritating the skin
  • Cutting your child’s nails short so that they don’t damage their skin from scratching as this can lead to further infection
  • Bathing your child in cool water and patting their skin dry
  • Giving your child paracetamol if they are in pain or have a temperature
  • Putting lotion, such as calamine, on the spots to calm the itch
  • Giving your child (above the age of 1) an antihistamine, such as chlorphenamine (Piriton) to treat the itch.3
  • If you live with someone who has a weakened immune system (vulnerable person), for example, someone who is having cancer treatment, you and your household may be able to get the chickenpox vaccine for free with the NHS.2

    People with weakened immune systems should avoid getting the vaccine.4

    If you are worried about you or your child getting chickenpox but don’t live with a vulnerable person, you can still get the chickenpox vaccine, but you will have to pay.2

    Chicken pox vaccines are available at your local Well pharmacy.

    Should I keep my child off school if they have chickenpox?

    Chickenpox is easily passed on from person-to-person. Your child can catch chickenpox just by being in the same room with someone with the virus.2

    From the day before they get a rash to the day their rash has dried and crusted over (approximately 5 days), your child can pass on chickenpox.3

    That is why your child must stay off school until their rash has dried.3

    Your child should also stay away from people with low immunity, pregnant women and infants who are less than 4 weeks old.3

    Can you help us improve our health information?

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    If you're interested in helping, email us at content@well.co.uk.

    Visit your nearest pharmacy

    Get support and advice from your local Well pharmacist.

    Where can I get further support and information?

    NHS Inform

    Information and support if you live in Scotland, including advice on chickenpox and how to treat it.

    NHS website

    Information about chickenpox, including symptoms, living with chickenpox and treatments to manage chickenpox.

    References
    1. Chickenpox. Accessed August 15, 2023. https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/infections-and-poisoning/chickenpox
    2. Chickenpox. nhs.uk. Published October 19, 2017. Accessed August 8, 2023. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/chickenpox/
    3. Scenario: Child or adult | Management | Chickenpox | CKS | NICE. Accessed August 15, 2023. https://cks.nice.org.uk/topics/chickenpox/management/child-or-adult/
    4. Who should have the chickenpox vaccine? nhs.uk. Published July 31, 2019. Accessed August 17, 2023. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vaccinations/when-is-chickenpox-vaccine-needed

    Published: September 2023

    Next review: September 2026

    Reviewed by: Mital Thakrar

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