How to care for your child with chickenpox

Head of Clinical Leadership and Engagement at Bupa UK, Paediatric Nurse and mum of two
23 May 2018

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. But Maggie didn’t escape so lightly. Her chickenpox was pretty severe and it wasn’t a very pleasant time 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.

A young boy with a bottle of milk

If you’re a parent, dealing with chickenpox at some point is very likely. As a paediatric nurse, I’ve 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. Here, I’ll share with you what I found most helpful.

Top tips for caring for your child with chickenpox

  • Be liberal with skin ointments. Calamine lotion and other over-the-counter lotions can help ease any itching and soothe your child’s skin.
  • Be aware of throat and genital spots. These are common places for chickenpox to pop up, but not always obvious. So offering them soft foods to eat and keeping the genital area clean and dry is key.
  • Use children’s paracetamol (such as calpol) to ease their fever and pain. But avoid ibuprofen and aspirin.
  • Prepare regular oatmeal baths. A handful of oats in a muslin cloth or sock submerged in the bath can help ease itchiness.

Below, I’ve gone into a bit more detail about each point.

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 of the itching. But there are other products available too that you might find more effective. I personally found that mousse-like foams work brilliantly. They’re much easier to apply to the skin than creams – and less messy. Whatever ointment you use, apply it generously, 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 one.

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 they can also develop in areas that aren’t so easy to spot, such as inside your child’s mouth, their throat and on their genitals. These can be exceptionally sore, but not always immediately obvious. 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 your child 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 and dry as possible. Swift nappy changes are key. They’re likely to become upset during a nappy change if they’re 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. After baths, gently pat the area dry and apply ointment to ease their itchiness.

Regular oatmeal baths

Although there isn’t any strong evidence for its use for chickenpox, I did find that oatmeal baths really helped Maggie. Put a handful of oats into a muslin cloth, sock 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 for little ones with chickenpox, as it’s comfortable on the skin.

Ease the fever with paracetamol

You may well have seen some coverage 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. With ibuprofen, there is a risk it can cause skin reactions in people with the chickenpox virus. Also, don’t use aspirin.

Keep your child’s fluid levels up, especially if they have a fever. Offer them water regularly, and place a cup 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’ll 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 how to care for your child with 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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