What to do when your child gets chickenpox

Dr Luke Powles
Associate Clinical Director, Health Clinics Bupa Global and UK
04 November 2021
Next review due November 2024

If you’re a parent, your child will probably get chickenpox at some point. And it can be hard to know what to do to help. Not only can it cause itchy spots, but it can also cause a high temperature (fever) and make them feel poorly. Here, I’ll share some top tips to help you look after your child if they catch chickenpox.

A young child being read a story

Five tips for caring for your child with chickenpox

Most children won’t need any medical treatment for chickenpox. They’ll usually feel better in around a week. But there are some things you can do to help them when they’re feeling unwell.

1. Reduce their itching

Chickenpox spots can be extremely itchy. Try applying calamine lotion on the affected area by wiping it gently onto the skin with a cotton pad. You could also try dressing your child in light, cotton fabrics.

If your child is over the age of one, you can try giving them an antihistamine, such as chlorphenamine. You can buy this over the counter from a pharmacy. Chlorphenamine is more commonly known by brand names such as Piriton, Allercalm, Allerief or Hayleve.

2. Stop them scratching

Scratching chickenpox spots can make them more likely to get infected. But it can be hard for children to leave their spots alone, especially when they’re asleep and don’t realise what they’re doing. Keep their nails short so that they don’t damage their skin if they do scratch themselves. You can also try putting socks or mittens on their hands at night.

3. Ease their fever

You can use paracetamol products, such as Calpol, to reduce your child’s fever and pain. Do not use ibuprofen to treat chickenpox. This is because taking ibuprofen for chickenpox can increase the risk of your child getting a skin infection.

You should also avoid giving your child aspirin. This is because taking aspirin for chickenpox symptoms has been linked to some children developing Reye’s syndrome, which can damage their brain and liver.

4. Keep them clean

Keep your child’s skin clean to help reduce the chance of the spots getting infected. Give them baths and change their underwear regularly. After baths, pat the area dry gently; don’t rub.

Spots can also develop on your child’s bottom and genitals. If your child can’t talk yet, it can be hard for them to let you know where they have itching and pain. So, if your child wears nappies try to change them as often as you can. Take care not to wipe the area too hard and talk to them reassuringly while you’re changing them.

5. Give them plenty to drink

Chickenpox can cause dehydration. So, keep your child’s fluid levels up, especially if they have a fever. Offer water regularly and place water by their bed when they go to sleep in case they need a drink during the night.

Spots can also develop inside your child’s mouth and throat. Try offering them cold drinks and ice lollies to soothe their pain.

When to seek medical advice or urgent help

Chickenpox is usually quite mild and can be dealt with at home. But 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 a GP or call 111 for advice. You should also seek immediate medical attention if your child has chickenpox and is younger than two months old.

Further information

For more information on chickenpox and other childhood viruses you can listen to this episode of the Healthy Me podcast. Specialist Health Editor, Alice Windsor, and Bupa GP, Dr Samantha Wild, discuss different types of virus and how to manage them.

We now offer GP appointments for children aged between 1 and 18. Find out more about our Under 18 GP Service, call us on 0330 822 3072.

Dr Luke Powles
Dr Luke Powles
Associate Clinical Director, Health Clinics Bupa Global and UK

    • Chickenpox. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries., revised August 2018
    • Chlorphenamine for allergies. Patient., last edited 15 Apr 2020
    • Chickenpox. MSD Manuals., last reviewed September 2021
    • Acute varicella-zoster. BMJ Best Practice., last updated 29 September 2021

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