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Chickenpox – Symptoms and causes

Publisher/Author : Pacific Cross

This post is also available in: Tiếng Việt (Vietnamese)


Know the basics

What is chickenpox?

Chickenpox, also called varicella, is a viral infection that affects the skin and mucous membranes, which causes a blister-like rash all over the body and face.

It is contagious to people who have not had chickenpox or have not been vaccinated for chickenpox. It is caused by a common herpes virus called varicella-zoster virus.

The virus causes chickenpox during childhood but during adulthood causes shingles (herpes zoster). Shingles is more painful and may cause severe complications.

How common is chickenpox?

Chickenpox is a common infectious disease. It can affect people at any age. But most cases occur in children under 15 years old. People who have a weak immune system are more at risk such as babies, pregnant women and older adults.

The vaccine can help prevent most cases of chickenpox or make your condition less severe. Most severe cases occur in adults.

Know the symptoms

What are the symptoms of chickenpox?

Signs and symptoms of chickenpox usually develop 7 to 21 days after exposure. They include slight fever, runny nose, slight cough, headache, tiredness, and no appetite.

Red spots that appear on the body 2 to 3 days later develop into an itchy rash that forms blisters, which dry and become scabs in 4 to 5 days. People may have only a few blisters, or more than 500 may appear.

Chickenpox is usually contagious 1 to 2 days before the rash and up to 6 days after blisters form. The mouth, ears, and eyes can also have ulcers.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

You should contact your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • Red spots spread to one or both eyes.
  • Spots become sensitive and hot. This may be a sign of infection.
  • Dizziness, disorientation, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, trembling, heavycoughing, vomiting, stiffness in the neckorfever higher than4degrees.
  • Family history of anyone has a weak immune or have children under6months old.

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above that does not go away or worsens, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Know the causes

What causes chickenpox?

The cause of chickenpox is a virus called varicella-zoster herpes virus. People catch chickenpox, when they are around someone who has it, by breathing in droplets containing virus. People also catch it by direct contact with skin lesions on infected people.

Know the risk factors

What increases my risk for chickenpox?

There are many risk factors for chickenpox, such as:

  • If you do not have history of chickenpox;
  • If you have not been vaccinated for chickenpox;
  • Work at a nursery or elementary school;
  • Or live with children.

Understand the diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is chickenpox diagnosed?

The spots caused by chickenpox is distinctively different other types of spot, thus diagnosis is quiet simple. The doctor will make a diagnosis by the medical history and by looking at the rash.

How is chickenpox treated?

Healthy children need no specific medicine but can get symptom relief. Non-aspirin products such as acetaminophen can reduce fever. Don’t give aspirin to children with chickenpox. Antihistamines, lotions such as calamine, and oatmeal baths can reduce itching. Drinking liquids and resting are recommended.

To prevent spreading chickenpox, keep children away from others until blisters have crusted. People at high risk for severe infection and people with impaired immune systems (e.g., those with bone marrow trans-plants or leukemia) may get antiviral drugs to prevent complications from chickenpox.

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Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage chickenpox?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with chickenpox:

  • Call your doctor at once if you’re pregnant and think that you were exposed to chickenpox.
  • Wash your hands regularly and wash bed linens and recently worn clothes with hot, soapy water.
  • Keep fingernails short to prevent scratching and avoid infection.
  • Rest, but allow quiet activity.
  • Use non-aspirin drugs for fever.
  • Notify school nurses and parents of playmates who may have been exposed.
  • Use antihistamines and cool sponge baths to reduce itching.
  • Call your doctor if your temperature is higher than 38°c or if weakness, headache, or sensitivity to light develop.
  • Call your doctor if vomiting, restlessness, and irritability occur, with decreased consciousness.
  • Know that a vaccine for chickenpox is available for those who have not yet had the disease.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.


  • Ferri, Fred. Ferri’s Netter Patient Advisor. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders / Elsevier, 2012. Print edition. Page 81.
    Porter, R. S., Kaplan, J. L., Homeier, B. P., & Albert, R. K. (2009). The Merck manual home health handbook. Whitehouse Station, NJ, Merck Research Laboratories. Page 1772.
  • Chickenpox. Accessed July 13, 2016.
  • Review Date: January 4, 2017 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017
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