Chickenpox is a common illness that mainly affects children and causes anitchy,spotty rash.

Most children will catch chickenpox at some point. It can also occur in adults who didn't have it when they were a child.

It'susually mild and clears up in a week or so, but it can be dangerous for some people, such as pregnant women,newborn babiesand people with a weakened immune system.

This page covers:


How to treat it at home

When to get medical advice

How you catchit

Possible complications

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Symptoms of chickenpox

The symptoms of chickenpox start one to three weeks after becoming infected.

The main symptom is a rash that develops in three stages:

  • spots red raised spots develop on the face or chest before spreading to other parts of the body
  • blisters over the next few hours orthe following day, very itchy fluid-filled blisters develop on top of the spots
  • scabs and crusts after a further few days, the blisters dry out and scab over to form a crust; the crusts then gradually fall off by themselves over the next week or two

Chickenpox is contagious until all the blisters have scabbed over, which usually happens about five or six days after the rash appeared.

Read about the symptoms of chickenpox for more information and pictures of the different stages of the rash.

How to treat chickenpox at home

Chickenpox can usually be treated at home.

You or your child will probably feel pretty miserable and uncomfortable, but treatment can help relieve the symptoms.

The following can help:

  • take over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol to relieve fever and discomfort
  • use calamine lotion, Emollients orcoolinggels to ease itching
  • tap or pat the skin rather than scratching it it's important to avoid scratching becausethis can lead to further problems
  • drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated

You should also take steps to stop chickenpox spreading , such as staying away from school or work until the last blister has scabbed over.

But some people can become more seriously ill and need to see a doctor.

It's a good idea to contact your GP or NHS 111 for adviceif:

  • you'renot sure ifyou or your child has chickenpox
  • your baby is less than four weeks old and has chickenpox
  • you develop chickenpox as an adult
  • the symptoms haven't started to improveafter six days
  • you've been in contact with someone who has chickenpox (or you have symptoms) and you're pregnant, breastfeeding or have a weakened immune system
  • you or your child has signs of chickenpox complications , such as swollen and painful skin, difficulty breathing or dehydration

Also consider getting advice if you're originally from a country near the equator (the tropics) and you've been in close contact with someone who has chickenpox.

Chickenpox is much more common in adults from these areas and you may need treatment to help stop you becoming seriously ill.

How you catch chickenpox

Chickenpoxiscaused by a virus that spreads very easily to people who haven't had it before. If you have hadit before, you'll usually be immune for life.

Theinfection is spread in the fluid found in chickenpox blisters and the droplets in the coughs or sneezes of someone with the infection.

You can catchchickenpox from:

  • contaminated surfaces
  • contaminated objects, such as toys or bedding
  • touching chickenpox blisters or the shingles rash
  • face-to-face contact with an infected person, such as having a conversation
  • being in the same room as an infected person for 15 minutes or more

Someonewith chickenpox is infectious from oneor two days before the rash appears until all the blisters have dried out and crusted over.

Possible complications

Most people with chickenpox will make a full recovery. But occasionally serious complications can occur.

These are more common in adults, pregnant women, newborn babies and people with weakened immune systems.

Possible complications include:

  • a bacterial skin infection this can cause the skin to become red, swollen and painful
  • a lung infection (pneumonia) this can cause a persistent cough , breathing difficulties and chest pain
  • pregnancy problems including the infection spreading to the unborn baby

Some people with chickenpox may develop shingles later in life. This is apainful, blistery rash caused by the chickenpox virus becoming reactivated.


Chickenpox FAQs

  • Can I get chickenpox more than once?
  • How are chickenpox and shingles connected?
  • What are the risks of chickenpox during pregnancy?
  • What should I do if I'm pregnant and I've been near someone with chickenpox?
  • Is there a chickenpox vaccine?
  • Who can have the chickenpox vaccination?
Content supplied by the NHS Website

Medically Reviewed by a doctor on 13 Dec 2016