Chickenpox is an infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus. The infection spreads easily and people of all ages can get it. Red spots appear on your skin and take about one to two days to go through the stages of blistering, bursting, drying, and crusting. The trademark pox or blisters of the illness can make your skin extremely itchy. Learn how to care for your itchy skin and what medications to take so that you can soothe your skin until you recover in about a week or 10 days.
EditCaring For Your Skin
- Resist the urge to scratch your skin. Chickenpox can be very itchy and the severity of the rash varies from person to person. Your scratching starts a scratch-itch cycle that will never end. This constant scratching may result in significant scarring after your blisters have healed.
- Scientists have shown that a mild amount of pain is produced when you scratch. This interferes with the itch sensation for just a moment. It only provides temporary relief because the mild pain signal from the scratching causes your brain to release serotonin, a neurotransmitter. Serotonin, which carries signals between nerve cells in your brain and spinal cord, makes you feel the itch sensation more intensely. This is the start of an unending scratch-itch cycle because you start scratching to relieve this itching.
- If you or your young child cannot stop scratching, trying putting gloves, mittens, or socks on your hands. This can be especially useful during the night when you are sleeping and less able to resist the impulse to scratch.
- Soothe your itchy skin with something cool. You can apply a cold compress or a towel-covered ice pack to the itchy areas for 20 to 30 minutes.
- Wet a washcloth or small towel with cold water to make the cold compress. You can purchase an ice pack from the store or put ice cubes in a disposable, plastic freezer bag. You want to wrap the ice pack with a towel to prevent your skin from getting too cold which could cause you pain.
- The cold compress and ice pack soothe the itching because the nerves that sense you have something cool/cold on your skin send signals that block the itching sensation.
- Take a lukewarm bath every several hours. Take a bath every three to four hours for the first several days after the red spots and blisters form on your skin. You can take a plain bath or add baking soda, cornstarch, or oatmeal to the water.
- During one of the baths, clean your skin with a gentle soap. It is not realistic to think that children, especially younger ones, will tolerate having to take such frequent baths. You can try applying frequent cold compresses instead.
- Add about four tablespoons of the baking soda, cornstarch, or dry, uncooked oatmeal to your bath water. You can use colloidal oatmeal, which is finely ground and made for the purpose of putting it in bath water. The baking soda, colloidal oatmeal, and cornstarch should dissolve well in the bath water. But, you may want to fill a nylon stocking with the dry oatmeal, tie a knot at the end, and throw it in the tub so that you will not have loose oats floating around the tub or clogging your drain.
- Studies have shown that oatmeal is a cleanser and moisturizer. It also has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties which makes it great for treating your itchy skin.
- Pamper your itchy skin and avoid irritating things. Use a mild soap when you wash your skin and your clothing. When you dry off after your bath or shower, pat yourself dry and do not rub your itchy skin.
- Use a soap and laundry detergent that is dye-free and fragrance-free to prevent further skin irritation.
- Moisturize your skin with a fragrance-free lotion after taking your bath or shower. A lotion like Aveeno has colloidal oatmeal in it and is a good choice. You should aim to moisturize your skin once or twice every day. Do not apply perfumes, cosmetics, or any other skin products to your skin.
- If you have blisters around your mouth, it may be painful to eat and drink. Pamper this area by eating foods which are cool, soft, and bland, like Popsicles, lukewarm oatmeal, or lukewarm soup. Definitely avoid food that is spicy, salty, or acidic.
- Baby your skin with cotton or silk. Make sure you dress comfortably in soft, loose-fitting clothing. Make your bed more comfortable by using only soft bedclothes. You want to avoid any material which creates friction or feels rough when it rubs up against your itchy skin.
- Silk and 100% cotton are soft and smooth unlike rough materials like wool or gabardine which should be avoided.
- Keep your nails trimmed and clean. You want to have short nails and clean hands just in case you cannot resist the urge to scratch. Your scratching can lead to a skin infection in your open blisters because of the bacteria under your nails and on your skin.
- You do not want to add to your discomfort by causing a skin infection. Dirt and bacteria is less likely to get under your shorter nails. Wash your hands frequently with lukewarm water and a mild soap. You will keep your skin clean with a daily bath or shower.
EditUsing Medications to Relieve Itching
- Use calamine lotion on your itchy areas. Calamine lotion contains mostly zinc oxide which is good for treating skin irritation and itchiness. It is safe for all ages but avoid applying the lotion around the eyes and mouth.
- Shake the bottle of calamine lotion and squirt some onto a cotton ball. Use the cotton ball to spread the lotion gently over the itchy areas. Allow the lotion to dry and feel it begin to soothe your skin. Re-apply the lotion as often as you need.
- Stick to calamine lotion and do not use a hydrocortisone cream on your blisters. The purpose of this medication is to lessen your immune response to the viral infection and it may lessen the itching, but the medication also could interfere with how well your blisters heal.
- If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you should not use calamine lotion or any medication without first checking with your doctor.
- Take an over-the-counter antihistamine. Histamine is a protein and one of its effects is to cause skin itchiness. Antihistamines help you feel better by blocking this effect in your body.
- Antihistamines block the receptors or places in the body where histamine attach. This can make your skin feel less itchy.
- Examples of over-the-counter antihistamines you can get without a doctor’s prescription are diphenhydramine (Benadryl), loratadine (Claritin), and cetirizine (Zyrtec). Do not take any medication or give it to your child without first talking to your healthcare provider.
- Do not use lotions containing diphenhydramine (Benadryl). When this antihistamine is in its topical form, it can be absorbed erratically through your open blisters. Drug levels in your blood could become too high.
- You could experience side effects like dry mouth, drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting.
- Treat your fever and pain. Your itchy skin may be hard to soothe, but you can get relief from a fever or any pain you may be having. Use acetaminophen (Tylenol) or any other over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) like ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil). Never use aspirin while you are sick with chickenpox.
- Use the NSAIDs with caution. According to a few studies, there is a very small chance you could develop serious inflammation of the skin if you use NSAIDs while you have chickenpox.
- Research has shown that you could develop Reye’s Syndrome if you use aspirin (a salicylate compound) to treat your symptoms from a viral infection like chickenpox. This serious and life-threatening disease can affect your liver and brain. The syndrome is most likely to develop as you begin to recover from the chickenpox. You suddenly will become symptomatic and experience drowsiness, loss of energy, personality changes like irritability or combativeness and confusion as a late symptom. No one should take aspirin while she is sick with chickenpox, but young people under the age of 22 are at high risk for developing the syndrome.
- See if your doctor can help. Antiviral medications will not cure the infection, but they may decrease the intensity of symptoms like itchy skin. If your scratching has led to a bacterial skin infection, your doctor may need to prescribe you an antibiotic.
- The bacterial skin infection around your open blisters could cause your itchy skin to get worse. Call your doctor immediately if you have a fever associated with areas of skin that are very warm, red, tender or draining pus. Taking an antibiotic can help you to feel better sooner.
- If you are one of the people at risk for more serious disease, you must go to your doctor’s office and be examined to see if she will prescribe an antiviral like acyclovir, valacyclovir, or famciclovir. People at higher risk are healthy people older than 12 years of age, infants three months or younger, people with chronic skin or lung disease, people receiving steroid therapy, people with weakened immune systems, and some groups of pregnant women.
- If your child is older than three months and younger than 13 years, he does not have to be seen by a doctor unless he is becoming more and more symptomatic.
- Call to make a doctor’s appointment if you develop symptoms like a fever lasting longer than four days, a fever that rises above 102°F (38.9 °C), extreme illness, difficult waking up or confusion, demeanor changes, difficulty walking, stiff neck, frequent vomiting, difficulty breathing, or a severe cough. Your doctor will decide what type of medication and/or treatment you need.
- Cheer up a Friend With Chicken Pox
- Relieve Itching from the Chicken Pox with Oats
- Prevent a Cold or the Flu
EditSources and Citations
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