Chickenpox causes spots (a rash) and can make you feel unwell. Symptoms tend to be worse in adults than in children. Treatments can ease the symptoms until the illness goes. An antiviral drug may limit the severity of the illness if the drug is started within 24 hours of the rash first starting. Full recovery is usual. Serious complications are rare, but are more common in adults than in children. They are more likely to occur in pregnant women and in people with a poor immune system, such as those on chemotherapy. If you are pregnant and have not had chickenpox (or been immunised) and come into contact with a person with chickenpox – see your doctor urgently, as treatment may prevent chickenpox from developing.
What is chickenpox?
Chickenpox is an infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus. The immune system makes proteins called antibodies during the infection. These fight the virus and then provide lifelong protection against it (immunity). Therefore, it is uncommon to have more than one bout of chickenpox in a lifetime.
Most people have chickenpox as a child. Most children get chickenpox before the age of 10. About 9 in 10 people have had it by the age of 15. It is uncommon for adults to have chickenpox.
What are the symptoms of chickenpox?
Symptoms are usually more severe in adults than in children. Expect to have a few uncomfortable days.
- High temperature (fever), aches and headache often start a day or so before a rash appears.
- Spots (a rash). Spots appear in crops. The spots develop into small blisters and are itchy. They can be anywhere on the body and sometimes also in the mouth. Several crops may develop over several days. Some people are covered in spots; others have only a few.
- Loss of appetite, tiredness and feeling sick are common.
- The fever and generally feeling unwell can last several days. The blisters gradually dry up and scab. They slowly fade over a week or so, but may take 2-3 weeks to go completely.
What is the treatment for chickenpox?
Treatments that may ease symptoms whilst your immune system deals with the virus include the following:
- Having plenty to drink to avoid a lack of fluid in the body (dehydration).
- Taking paracetamol or ibuprofen to ease high temperature (fever), headaches, and aches and pains; note ibuprofen only for those over 12 years old.
- Soothing creams (emollients) put on the spots (rash) may ease itching. Calamine lotion is the most used, although it is not known how effective it is.
- Antihistamine tablets taken at bedtime may help you to sleep if itch is a problem at night. You can buy these at pharmacies, or get them on prescription.
CONSULT YOUR DOCTOR IMMEDIATELY