Chickenpox: Care Instructions

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Chickenpox is a common disease caused by the varicella virus. Chickenpox causes an itchy rash and red spots or blisters (pox) on the skin all over the body. You also can have blisters on the scalp and in the eye. But getting the chickenpox vaccine can lower your risk of getting this disease.

Chickenpox is most contagious from 2 to 3 days before the rash develops until no new blisters form and all the blisters have crusted over. That may be 7 days or more after the blisters first appear. It may take up to 2 weeks for the scabs to go away. Most healthy children need only home treatment for chickenpox. People who are older than age 12, are pregnant, or have a weak immune system may need medicine.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Take warm or cool baths with oatmeal bath products, such as Aveeno. This will reduce itching. You can also add a handful of oatmeal (ground to a powder) to your bath. After your bath, pat, rather than rub, your skin dry.
  • Take acetaminophen (Tylenol) to reduce fever and discomfort. Read and follow all instructions on the label. No one younger than 20 should take aspirin. It has been linked to Reye syndrome, a serious illness.
  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
  • Try not to scratch the chickenpox rash.
  • Wet a soft cloth with cool water alone or cool water mixed with baking soda. Put the cool compress directly on the skin to cool your skin and relieve itching.
  • Use soothing lotions that can help dry chickenpox blisters, such as those that contain:
    • Phenol, menthol, and camphor, such as calamine lotion.
    • Oatmeal, such as Aveeno Lotion.
  • Do not use lotions or creams that contain antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl).
  • Try not to get hot and sweaty, because it will make you itch more.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have a new or worsening cough, and you are short of breath.
  • You have a fever with a stiff neck or a severe headache.
  • You are sensitive to light or feel very sleepy or confused.
  • You have eye pain or drainage.
  • You have signs of an infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the chickenpox blisters.
    • Pus draining from the blisters.
    • A fever.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.