Chickenpox: Symptoms, Treatment, and When to Get Help

Chickenpox is a common, contagious virus that coats the body in itchy, red spots. It’s common in children, but it also affects teens and adults.

The number of young people affected by chickenpox has dropped significantly as a result of the immunization children now receive, said Kevin Wong, MD, Westmoreland Family Medicine–UPMC.

For more information, or to find a primary care doctors, visit www.UPMC.com/PCP or call 1-855-676-UPMCPCP.

Fortunately, those who have suffered one bout of chickenpox are unlikely to contract the illness again. Learn more about how you can deal with a case of the chickenpox.

Symptoms of Chickenpox

Fever and body aches are the first signs of the chickenpox.

“These are common symptoms that seen with many other viral illnesses,” Dr. Wong said.

Within a few days, you may begin to develop small, red flat spots with small blisters or vesicles. Dr. Wong said these spots are nicknamed “fried egg” because of their appearance. The rash, which often becomes itchy and sore, is the signature symptom of chickenpox.

Chickenpox is extremely contagious. It may take more than 10 days to run its course. When possible, people with chickenpox should avoid contact with others. As the rash heals, crust and scabs form over the spots. This scabbing may take several more days to heal.

Chickenpox Complications: When to Get Help

Though many people think of chickenpox as a childhood illness, it can occur in teens and adults. Adults are at a higher risk of developing complications from chickenpox. Other groups at risk of chickenpox complications include:

  • Pregnant women
  • People with weakened immune systems
  • People who have had a fever for more than three or four days
  • Babies younger than 6 months of age

In healthy children, chickenpox is usually mild. Consult a doctor if any of the following chickenpox symptoms develop:

  • The rash spreads to the eyes
  • The rash becomes extremely tender
  • The rash occurs with dizziness, confusion, shortness of breath, stiff neck, excessive fever, or loss of coordination

Treatment Options for Chickenpox

If you believe you have chickenpox, contact your primary care doctor. In most cases, the virus can be treated at home with over-the-counter options:

  • Oatmeal bath – An oatmeal bath can help reduce the itching and soothe the rash
  • Cold compress – A cold compress can help reduce fever
  • Antihistamine – Antihistamines, specifically those taken by mouth, can help reduce itching

To recover from chickenpox, get plenty of rest and drink extra fluids. Most importantly, don’t scratch those little red spots.

“They’re blisters, and scratching could cause a secondary bacterial skin infection,” Dr. Wong said.

RELATED: The Importance of Vaccination for Measles

What to Do If You’re Exposed to Chickenpox

If you’ve already suffered a case of the chickenpox, you run little risk of contracting it again. But if you have not had chickenpox, you should take some basic precautions while caring for someone who is infected:

  • Vaccination – Most people are vaccinated at a very young age. This reduces or eliminates the possibility of developing chickenpox. For those who weren’t previously vaccinated, receiving a vaccine within three days of infection can help reduce the risk of getting it or decrease the severity of the illness.
  • Chickenpox Immunoglobulins – Immunoglobulins are used to help the body recognize “invaders,” both viral and bacterial. If received early enough, chickenpox immunoglobulins can help prevent infection.