Caring for your child with chickenpox

Head of Clinical Leadership and Engagement at Bupa UK, Paediatric Nurse and mum of two
13 May 2016
Toddler lying on bed with a bottle of milk

If you’re a parent, dealing with chickenpox is very likely at some point. Although the severity of chickenpox can differ greatly between children, it’s important to know how to effectively deal with the illness and care for your child’s skin. Bupa’s Lucy Brown gives us her top tips to making your child more comfortable and reducing the chance of infected spots when the pox does arrive in your household.

I have two children – Harry and Maggie – now aged seven and three. But only Maggie has had chickenpox – Harry was born in Australia, so he was vaccinated against it at a young age. Maggie didn’t escape lightly. Her chickenpox was pretty severe and that time was not pleasant for any of us! But I do believe the things I did for Maggie when she was poorly helped ease her symptoms and made it more bearable. As a paediatric nurse, I have seen many children with chickenpox, with varying severity. So I had the knowledge and experience to deal with it as best I could when my own daughter caught it. I’ll share with you what I found most helpful.

Be liberal with skin ointments

Chickenpox spots can be extremely itchy, so make sure you stock up on some topical ointments to help soothe your child’s skin. Calamine lotion is often touted as the go-to cream when chickenpox spots break out. And it may well help reduce some itching. But there are other products available too that you might find more effective. I personally found that foams work brilliantly. They are much easier to apply to the skin than creams – and less mess. Whatever ointment you use, apply it liberally, especially just before bedtime to help aid some sleep.

An antihistamine, such as chlorphenamine, may also help with the itching. These can be bought over the counter from a pharmacy. But don’t give this medicine to your child if they’re under 1.

Be aware of throat and genital spots

Chickenpox spots commonly appear on the face, the trunk of the body, and the arms and legs. But spots can also develop on mucus membranes, such as inside your child’s mouth, their throat and on their genitals. These can be exceptionally sore. If your child isn’t at the stage of talking, it can be hard for them to communicate where they have pain or itching. Offer soft, cool/cold foods, such as ice-cream, yoghurt and fruit smoothies.

If your little one has spots on their genitals, try to keep that area as clean as possible. Swift nappy changes are key. Your child is likely to become upset during a nappy change if they are sore. But what’s important is hygiene and cleanliness to avoid infection in an already hard-to-treat area. Be gentle and speak softly to them during the change, with a big cuddle afterwards.

Regular oatmeal baths

Although there isn’t any strong evidence for its use, I did find that oatmeal baths really helped Maggie. Put a handful of oats into a muslin cloth or tea towel and tie it closed tightly. Submerge the package in a warm bath, giving it a squeeze now and then, and let your child soak for a while. Make sure you dry your child’s skin thoroughly after a bath (pat not rub) and apply lots of ointment before bed. Loose clothing, day and night, is also a great idea, as it’s comfortable on the skin.

Ease the fever with paracetamol

You may well have seen some coverage recently about not using ibuprofen for chickenpox. And there is truth in it – stick to paracetamol (eg, Calpol) to reduce your child’s fever and pain during chickenpox. It’s advised to avoid ibuprofen because there is a risk it can cause skin reactions. Also, don’t use aspirin.

Keep your child’s fluid levels up, especially if they have a fever. Offer water regularly, and place a glass or beaker of water by the side of their bed when they go to sleep in case they need a drink during the night.

When to seek medical advice or urgent help

Chickenpox is usually relatively mild and can be dealt with at home. But as with most illnesses, there is always a chance of complications. If your child has breathing difficulties, is drowsy or has a very high fever that won’t drop, contact your GP or call 111 for advice. The NHS 111 service is brilliant and they will be able to assess your child’s condition before advising what to do – whether it’s seeing a doctor or calling an ambulance.

For more information about complications of chickenpox, see our Bupa topic page.

I really hope my tips on what helped Maggie during her chickenpox will help you! Chickenpox is almost inevitable if you have children, and although it isn’t always very nice for them, it’s usually harmless and spots will clear up within a week. But always contact your GP or seek urgent advice if you’re at all worried about your child.

Here at Bupa we understand how important your family is. So with our family health insurance you can rest assured knowing that eligible treatment and support is available for your loved ones when you need it.

Lucy Brown
Head of Clinical Leadership and Engagement at Bupa UK, Paediatric Nurse and mum of two

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