Chickenpox: Brief Version

What is chickenpox?

Chickenpox is a disease caused by a virus. Most likely, your child was around a child with chickenpox about 2 or 3 weeks before. Here’s what you can expect:

  • At first, you’ll see small, red bumps. These bumps may become thin-walled water blisters.
  • After that, you may see cloudy blisters or open sores.
  • In about a day, you may see them turn into dry, brown crusts.
  • More and more red bumps will crop up all over your child’s body for about 4 or 5 days.

The disease can spread to other people until all the sores have crusted over. Most of the time, all the sores crust over about 5 to 7 days after the rash starts. It may take 2 weeks for all of the scabs to fall off.

How can I take care of my child?

  • Itching. Give your child a cool bath every 3 to 4 hours. Add 4 tablespoons of baking soda, oatmeal, or cornstarch to the tub of water. If the itching is very bad, or keeps your child from sleeping, give your child a pill called Benadryl. You can get this antihistamine at your drug store. You don’t need a doctor’s order.
  • Fever. If your child has a fever over 102° (39°C), give acetaminophen (Tylenol). Do not give aspirin or ibuprofen.
  • Sore mouth. Give soft foods and cold fluids. For babies, use a cup instead of a bottle. The nipple may hurt. Stay away from salty foods and citrus fruits. You can also have your child gargle or swallow 1 teaspoon of an antacid after meals.
  • Preventing infected sores. Trim your child’s fingernails short. Also, wash your child’s hands with an antibacterial soap often during the day.

Call your child’s doctor right away if:

  • Your child has red skin, red streaks, or red rash.
  • Your child starts acting very sick.

Call your child’s doctor within 24 hours if:

  • A scab looks infected (gets larger or drains pus).
  • The fever lasts over 4 days.
  • The itching is very bad and doesn’t get better when treated.
  • You have other questions or concerns. If you take your child to a doctor’s office, call ahead to let the staff know that you think your child has chickenpox.
Written by Barton D. Schmitt, MD, author of “My Child Is Sick,” American Academy of Pediatrics Books.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-06-10
Last reviewed: 2014-06-10
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 Barton D. Schmitt, MD. All rights reserved.

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