Chickenpox is a viral illness, which means it has no cure. What we can do is treat the symptoms and make sure our children are as comfortable as possible.
Since chickenpox is highly contagious, most children will contract it before their tenth birthday, with many catching it before they turn four.
If your little one breaks out in those tell-tale spots, here’s how to survive the itchy, irritable days and nights.
Keep them isolated
As chickenpox is very easily passed from person to person, it’s important to keep suspected cases isolated until their spots scab over.
People who particularly need to stay away from infected children are pregnant women, newborn babies and anyone with a weakened immune system.
If you’re caring for a child with chickenpox and fall into one of these groups, contact your GP for advice.
Keep the cool
Dress your child in light cotton clothes and use cotton bedding, rather than synthetic materials such as polyester.
Keep both clothing and bedding to a minimum to help prevent overheating.
For older babies and children, offer sugar-free ice lollies, particularly if they have blisters in their mouth.
Lukewarm baths will also help them to stay cool.
Use paracetamol to reduce a fever
A child-appropriate brand of paracetamol, such as Calpol, can help to bring down a fever.
Ibuprofen is no longer recommended for treating a fever caused by chickenpox. Although it has anti-inflammatory properties, research has suggested that using ibuprofen for chickenpox may lead to an increased risk of a serious skin infection called necrotising fasciitis.
Similarly, aspirin should not be given to children due to the risk of complications.
Control the itching
Scratching spots can lead to skin infections and scarring, so it’s important to keep it to a minimum.
An oral antihistamine such as Piriton (suitable from 12 months as a syrup) can reduce itching, particularly when taken at bedtime. Ask your doctor before giving an antihistamine to children under one year or before using any lotions that contain antihistamines.
Calamine lotion has been used to sooth chickenpox for generations. It contains zinc oxide, which has a cooling effect. However, the benefits don’t last long, so it has to be reapplied regularly.
ViraSoothe Chickenpox Relief Cooling Gel is suitable for babies from 6 months. Its soothing effect reducing itching and can be used two to three times per day.
Oatmeal baths have a calming effect on the skin. Fill an old sock with oatmeal, tie it over the tap and then run a lukewarm bath. Allow your child to sit or lie in the bath for 15-20 minutes, before gently patting (not rubbing) them dry. You can also buy Aveeno oatmeal bath products. Caution: the oaty water will make the bath slippery!
A handful of bicarbonate of soda in a bath is also said to reduce itching.
Other steps to protect against scratching include:
- Cutting nails short
- Putting cotton gloves or socks on their hands at night
- Showing them how to pat their itchiest spots for urgent relief, rather than giving in to scratching
Keep their fluids up
As with most illnesses, it’s important to stay hydrated. Offer cool drinks regularly, ideally water rather than acidic fruit juices or fizzy drinks.
If your child is still breast or bottle fed, continue to feed them as normal. Breastfed babies may wish to feed more often than usual for additional fluids, comfort and pain relief.
Additionally, choose cool and soft foods, rather than anything with strong or spicy flavours. If your child’s throat is sore, things like smoothies and cool soup are a good option.
When to ring your GP
In most cases, chickenpox sufferers won’t need to be seen by a GP.
Call your doctor immediately if you think your child has chicken pox AND:
- They are under four weeks old
- Their skin blisters have become infected – they may be red, sore, or warm to touch
- They are experiencing breathing difficulties or chest pains
- The rash has spread to one or both eyes
- If the rash is accompanied by dizziness, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, shakes, loss of coordination, stiff neck, worsening cough, vomiting, or a fever higher than 39.4°C