Dealing with Chickenpox: What to do if my child has chickenpox?
Between the recent global chaos caused by the coronavirus pandemic, and all the disruption to daily life it caused, many of us have gotten off schedule with our basic preventive health care. One of the unfortunate side effects of this is a decline in kids staying on top of basic childhood vaccinations. And when kids miss out on basic vaccine doses, they face increased risks of catching preventable childhood diseases.
Those easily preventable diseases include chickenpox, which is caused by the varicella zoster virus – the same virus that can cause shingles in adults. Although chickenpox used to be considered a rite of passage for many kids, getting kids vaccinated against varicella is over 90% effective at keeping them from catching chickenpox.
Even though my bout with chickenpox was decades ago, I can still remember how absolutely miserable I was, wanting to scratch every bit of skin off of my body. As parents, the last thing we want to do is watch our child suffer. So if your child is one of the unlucky ones who ends up with chickenpox, you may be squirming in agony as you watch them scratch an hear them complain about their discomfort.
The symptoms of chickenpox include everything from an itchy rash to a fever. The good news is, in most cases chickenpox resolves on its own, without the need for medical intervention. Symptoms are generally better in about a week. And while the virus will remain in your child’s body for life, developing a second case of chickenpox is rare.
But meanwhile, you may be wondering how you can help your miserable kiddo feel more comfortable, while they wait out the itchy rash that goes with an outbreak of chickenpox. Read on for these easy home remedies for chickenpox that can help ease their – and your – suffering!
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Easy Home Remedies to Ease Chickenpox Suffering
The most characteristic sign of chickenpox is, of course, that itchy rash that breaks out all over your kiddo’s body. This means that making your kiddo more comfortable starts with helping them deal with that itching..
Helping your child lessen itching and scratching will do more than make them feel better, though; it can actually help to minimize the long-term damage from their bout with varicella. As any kid who has scratched a bug bite knows, constant scratching can break the skin’s surface. This not only increases the chance of scarring, it also increases risk of infection.
Putting infant no-scratch mittens or socks on your child’s hands can help keep them from scratching too much in their sleep. I used to save my kids’ mismatched socks to use as “medicine mittens” in situations like this. But there are also several things you can do to soothe the itchiness so kids won’t scratch so much:
- Taking a cool bath containing uncooked oats, baking soda, or colloidal oatmeal – I distinctly remember my mom doing this to ease my chickenpox suffering, and it helped!
- Applying calamine lotion, hydrocortisone cream, or (my kids’ fave) Benadryl cooling gel to sores to minimize itchiness
- Taking diphenhydramine (Benadryl) or another antihistamine – these are often sold over the counter in the children’s allergy section. Just beware that diphenhydramine makes many kids sleepy! (You can find dosing charts online.)
Since the chickenpox can also spread to a child’s genital area and backside, changing their underwear or diapers often is also a good idea; be careful not to rub too hard with those diaper wipes.
An elevated temperature is also another characteristic symptom of chickenpox. Because kiddos with chickenpox can often have a fever too, it’s important to know what is safe and NOT safe to give your child.
Short version, acetaminophen (Tylenol) – or, for those of you outside the U.S., paracetamol – is a safe way to reduce your kid’s fever. You do NOT want to give your chickenpox-suffering child aspirin or ibuprofen:
- Kids under 16 should never have aspirin because of the link between aspirin and Reye’s syndrome in children.
- And giving ibuprofen or other anti-inflammatory meds to someone with chickenpox may increase their risk of skin damage and infection.
Mouth pain and problems eating/drinking
Since chickenpox sores can also show up in a child’s mouth, they may find eating and drinking painful, which could put them at risk for dehydration. Therefore, it’s important to feed them accordingly
- Above all, a bland diet (think rice, bananas, etc.) will avoid aggravating the inside of their mouth.
- Make sure they always have access to water. Replenish their water glass often and encourage them to drink. Ginger ale can make a nice alternate beverage. Either way, use ice cubes to keep their drinks soothingly cold.
- Frozen treats can also make them feel better while helping avoid dehydration. Think not only popsicles and ice cream, but also simple smoothies/shakes (milk + ice cubes + a banana + peanut butter and/or chocolate syrup). Older kids can suck on ice cubes. You can also try frozen berries or even frozen grapes.
The bottom line:
The varicella zoster virus is never fun, but usually manageable at home. While vaccination can go a long way toward preventing your family from the suffering that goes along with a kiddo who has chickenpox, there are things you can do to ease everyone’s misery until your little one is better again.
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