Chickenpox is usually mild and can be treated at home. Most people feel better within a week or so.
There's no cure, but the treatments below can help relieve the symptoms while the body fights the infection.
It's also important to take steps to prevent chickenpox spreading, such as staying off work or school until you've stopped getting any new spots and for at least 5 days after the first spots appeared.
Use paracetamol to relieve pain and discomfort.
Paracetamol is safe for most people to take – including pregnant women and children over 2 months of age. Special liquid versions are available for young children and babies.
Don't use anti-inflammatory painkillers, such as ibuprofen, as they can sometimes make people with chickenpox very ill. Never give aspirin to a child under 16 as it can be dangerous for them.
Always read the packet or leaflet that comes with the medicine to check if it's suitable and how much to take. Speak to a pharmacist or your GP if you're unsure.
Prevent itching and scratching
Chickenpox can be very itchy, but it's important not to scratch the spots as it can increase the chances of the skin becoming infected with bacteria and could result in scarring.
It can help to:
- keep nails short and clean
- tap or pat the skin instead of scratching it
- wear cotton gloves at night (or socks over hands)
- bathe in cool or lukewarm water – dab or pat the skin dry afterwards, rather than rubbing it
- wear loose, smooth cotton clothing
You can also buy calamine lotion, moisturising creams, cooling gels or an antihistamine medicine called chlorpheniramine to help reduce itching and soothe the skin.
Food and drink
It's important to drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.
Water is better than sugary, fizzy or acidic drinks – particularly if you or your child has chickenpox spots in the mouth.
Sugar-free ice lollies are also a good way of getting fluids into children and can help soothe a sore mouth.
Avoid sharp, hard, salty or spicy foods that may make the mouth sore. Soft, cool foods are best, such as soup that's been left to cool down.
If you breastfeed or bottle feed your baby, continue to give them feeds regularly.
Stronger treatments from a doctor
Antiviral medication or a treatment called immunoglobulin may be recommended if you're at risk of developing severe chickenpox.
Those at risk include:
- pregnant women
- adults, especially those who smoke
- newborn babies under 4 weeks old
- people with a weakened immune system (the body's defence system), such as people with HIV, those taking high doses of steroid medication, and those having chemotherapy
An antiviral medicine called aciclovir may be recommended if you're at risk of severe chickenpox and you already have symptoms.
It ideally needs to be started within 24 hours of the rash appearing. It doesn't cure chickenpox, but makes the symptoms less severe.
It's normally taken as tablets 5 times a day for 7 days.
Immunoglobulin is a treatment given by injection that can help prevent severe chickenpox if you've been exposed to someone with the infection but don't have any symptoms yet.
It's sometimes given to pregnant women, people with a weakened immune system and newborn babies who've been exposed to the chickenpox virus and haven't had the infection before.