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What is varicella?

Varicella, or chickenpox, is an infection caused by the varicella virus. Chickenpox is spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It is also spread when you touch the fluid that comes out of chickenpox blisters.

What are the signs and symptoms of chickenpox?

A rash usually appears on your child's chest, back, and scalp first. The rash then spreads to the arms and legs. It begins as itchy, red bumps. The bumps form blisters that are filled with fluid. The blisters then break and crust over. New blisters may continue to form for up to 4 days. It takes about 2 weeks for all the crusts and scabs to fall off. Your child may also have any of the following:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Tiredness
  • Mouth sores

How is chickenpox diagnosed?

Your child's healthcare provider can usually diagnose chickenpox based on your child's symptoms and physical exam.

How is chickenpox treated?

The goal of treatment is to decrease your child's symptoms. He may need any of the following:

  • Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to give your child and how often to give it. Follow directions. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.
  • Antihistamines help decrease itching. The available without a doctor's order. Follow directions. These medicines can make your child sleepy.

How can I manage my child's symptoms?

  • Help relieve your child's itching. If your child scratches or picks at his rash, it can cause a bacterial skin infection and scars. The following may help relieve your child's itching:
    • Apply calamine lotion on your child's rash. Follow the directions on the label. Do not use this lotion on sores inside your child's mouth.
    • Give your child baths in lukewarm water. Add ½ cup of baking soda or uncooked oatmeal to the water. Let your child bathe for about 30 minutes. Do this several times a day.
    • Trim your child's fingernails. Put gloves or socks on his hands, especially at night. Wash his hands with germ-killing soap to prevent a bacterial infection.
    • Keep your child cool. The itching can get worse if your child sweats.
  • Help relieve painful mouth sores. You may be given medicine to put on your child's mouth sores. These may include numbing gels or an antacid solution. Use these medicines before your child eats or drinks. Avoid spicy, salty, hot, or sour foods.
  • Give your child liquids as directed to help prevent dehydration. Ask how much liquid your child should drink each day and which liquids are best for him. Good liquids include water, juice, or broth. He may need an oral rehydration solution (ORS). An ORS has the right amounts of water, salts, and sugar your child needs to replace body fluids. You can buy ORS at most grocery stores and pharmacies.
  • Help your child rest as much as possible and get plenty of sleep.
  • Prevent the spread of chickenpox. Keep your child away from others. He will need to stay home from school or daycare until all his blisters are crusted over. This usually takes about 1 week. You may also need the following:
    • Varicella vaccine helps prevent chickenpox (varicella) infection. Children usually get 2 doses. The first dose is usually given at 12 to 15 months. The second dose is usually given at 4 to 6 years. Any older child who is not fully vaccinated may need 1 dose. Any older child who is not vaccinated and has never had chickenpox should receive the vaccine.

Call 911 for any of the following:

  • Your child has trouble breathing or is breathing faster than normal.
  • Your child has a seizure.

When should I contact my child's healthcare provider?

  • Your child is confused or more clumsy than usual.
  • The rash spreads to one or both of your child's eyes.
  • The blisters get red, warm, tender, or drain yellow or white fluid.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's caregivers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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