Childhood Illness Spotlight: Chickenpox

Hello and welcome to the second topic in our childhood illness spotlight. This month it’s all about chickenpox!

Nearly everyone has had chickenpox at some point in their lives. It’s a common childhood illness that causes discomfort for around a week, but soon sorts itself out. As an adult, it can leave you bedridden and itchy for weeks. So what is chickenpox and how can you help your child recover if they catch it?

What Is Chickenpox?

Chickenpox is one of the most common childhood illnesses out there, except for maybe the common cold. It’s caused by a viral infection and causes an itchy rash and fluid-filled blisters on the skin. It’s a highly contagious illness, but can only be caught by people who haven’t already had it themselves, or been vaccinated against it. It’s usually best that your child gets chickenpox as a child, since in childhood it’s a mild disease, whereas in adults it can have some pretty serious complications.  I have heard that some people hold ‘pox parties’ to infect their children early.

What Are the Symptoms?

Despite its trademark rash and spots, the chickenpox virus doesn’t immediately present with its most common symptoms. Instead, the virus will incubate for around 10-12 days after the first exposure, then present some symptoms before developing into full-blown chickenpox. Some of the symptoms first appear around 2-3 days before the rash, and warn you that illness is coming. These include:

  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Headache
  • Tiredness and generally feeling unwell

A few days after these symptoms appear, you will start to see the rash and spots appearing. Chickenpox rashes will generally go through three phases:

  • Raised pink or red bumps (called papules), which break out over the course of a few days.
  • Small, fluid-filled blisters (called vesicles), forming from the raised bumps over the course of a day. These will then break open and start to leak.
  • Crusts and scabs will then cover the broken blisters. These will take a couple of days to heal.

Although these bumps won’t all appear at once, as they progress new bumps will continue to appear, so your child might actually end up with all three stages of chickenpox at once. Eek!

Once your child is infected, they can spread the virus for up to 48 hours before the rash appears, and they will stay infections until all of the spots crust over completely. In general, chickenpox in children is fairly mild, although in severe cases the rash can spread and cover the entire body, including the throat, eyes and even some of the mucous membranes.

How Is Chickenpox Diagnosed?

If you think your child has, or is coming down with chickenpox, the first thing you need to do is see your doctor. Be sure to let them know that you think your child has chickenpox beforehand, so that you can avoid waiting and possibly infecting other people in the waiting room. A physical exam and a chat about symptoms is usually all it takes to diagnose chickenpox, since it’s something doctors see all the time in children. The doctor will recommend a treatment plan based on the severity of the chickenpox. One important thing – make sure you let the doctor know if anyone in your household is immune deficient, or under 6 months old, as chickenpox could be more of a risk to them and your doctor may be able to help.

How Is It Treated?

It is important when your child has chickenpox to keep them in isolation. That means keeping them away from nursery or school, or anyone who is particularly at risk (pregnant women, newborn babies and people with a weakened immune system). If you are at risk of being infected then you should stay away from work too. Thankfully, chickenpox will heal and go away on its own in 99% of cases, so it’s really about making your child as comfortable as possible. A few things you can do:

  • Make sure they drink plenty of fluids. If they don’t want to drink water, you can try giving them ice lollies so that they stay hydrated.
  • Give them regular doses of paracetamol
  • Put socks or mittens on your child’s hands, particularly at night, to stop them scratching the spots.
  • Use cooling lotions and gels on the rash. Speak to your local pharmacy for their recommendations.
  • Dress them in loose clothes
  • Bathe them in cool water and pat the skin dry (avoid rubbing it as this will irritate the skin)

There are a lot of ‘home remedies’ for chickenpox around, but unfortunately it isn’t something that can be cured. You just have to help them through the discomfort and know they won’t have to go through it again, since they will be immune.

However, there are a few things you should keep an eye out for, and if you spot them go straight to the doctor:

  • If the rash spreads to one or both eyes
  • If the rash gets very red, warm or tender. This could indicate a secondary bacterial skin infection
  • If the rash is accompanied by dizziness, disorientation, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, tremors, loss of muscle coordination, worsening cough, vomiting, stiff neck or a fever higher than 102°F / over 38°C

That is a lot to try and remember when you’re trying to comfort a sick and distressed child, especially when they are as itchy, sore and uncomfortable. It’s all too easy to accidentally miss a dose of medicine or give them a double dose. The Medi-Redi medicine timer is the ideal way to store and track medication times and doses, so you have one less thing to think about during that tough time. Designed specifically to hold bottles, sachets, blister packs, instructions and spoons in one place, you never have to worry about missing a dose again.

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