Many of us will recall those itchy, red blisters we suffered as children. Chicken pox is the common name for the varicella-zoster virus, which causes a very itchy, highly-contagious skin rash. The virus most commonly affects children between the ages of 4–10, but chicken pox can also affect adults who have never had the virus and therefore are not yet immune to it. Luckily, there are many options for chicken pox treatment.
How is chicken pox treated? Fortunately most healthy children and adults who get chicken pox will not require much or any medical attention or chicken pox treatment. In most cases a chicken pox skin rash will go away on its own within about two weeks without any medications or other interventions. However, in severe cases the virus can cause symptoms that linger for months, or, rarely, other complications such as scarring or pneumonia.
If you’re unfortunate enough to suffer from chicken pox symptoms for many weeks or even longer, there are a number of home remedies available for natural chicken pox treatment. These include things like taking soothing baths with oatmeal, applying anti-inflammatory products to the skin, and reducing body aches with essential oils. Treatments for chicken pox won’t “cure” the virus or prevent it from spreading to other people, but they can be really helpful for reducing itching, scabbing, fever symptoms, risk for infection and permanent scarring of the skin.
Chicken Pox Risk Factors, Causes & Symptoms
Chicken pox is very contagious and spreads easily from person to person. Chicken pox can spread even without direct contact since the virus can travel through the air via tiny respiratory droplets that are breathed in. It can also be transmitted through direct contact with an infected person’s skin fluids.
Chicken pox symptoms usually appear within about two to three weeks after someone comes into contact with the virus. The most common chicken pox symptoms include: (1)
- Developing a red skin rash that is usually severely itchy and uncomfortable. The rash usually forms on the face, scalp, chest, back and, to a lesser extent, on the arms and legs. Blisters and even keloids can occur. Typically a chicken pox rash will be active for about five days before the blisters fill with fluid, rupture, and then form scabs.
- Fever that usually lasts under five days and can cause symptoms like a stiff neck, nausea, body aches, etc.
- Abdominal pain and loss of appetite.
- Fatigue, unease (malaise) and lethargy.
- Sometimes a dry cough and sore throat.
Rarely, someone will get chicken pox more than once; however, the vast majority of the time chicken pox only affects people one time (usually while they are a child).What are the biggest risk factors for developing chicken pox? These include:
- Never having had chicken pox before, which means someone is not yet immune to the virus.
- Having close contact with anyone who is infected or was recently infected (both children and adults).
- Working in close contact with children, such as in a daycare or school.
- Never having been vaccinated for chicken pox.
- Being an infant or newborn whose mother never had chickenpox or the vaccine.
- Having a weakened immune systems or taking immunosuppressing medications (such as steroids), which can include cancer treatments or treatment for HIV.
Prevention & Conventional Chicken Pox Treatment
Prevention is key when it comes to protecting yourself or your children from chicken pox. The most common way that someone gets chicken pox is through direct contact with another infected person’s skin, such as through exposure to fluids that leak from chicken pox blisters. If possible, avoid direct contact with someone who has an active case of chicken pox.
If a child or adult with chicken pox is otherwise healthy, then most doctors will recommend simply staying home, resting, possibly taking an over-the-counter (OTC) painkiller to manage symptoms, and giving the virus time to pass. The vast majority of children and adults who do develop chicken pox will fully overcome the virus within several weeks and experience no long-term health problems as a result. However, when someone has a compromised immune system — for example, due to a history of another illness or from taking immunosuppressant drugs — there are certain serious complications that can be caused by chicken pox. (2)
Medications and treatment might then be needed to prevent or manage complications, such as:
- Nervous system complications
- Varicella pneumonia
- Internal infection of the organs
- Deformities in developing fetuses when the mother is infected
- Encephalitis (inflammation of the brain)
Some of the medications for chicken pox treatment that doctors may prescribe include: (3)
- Acyclovir (Zoviraz)
- Immune globulin intravenous (IGIV)
- Valacyclovir (Valtrex)
- Famciclovir (Famvir)
- Bromovinyl deoxyuridine (Brivudin)
There is also a varicella-zoster vaccine available. If you choose to vaccinate, most health authorities recommend that children receive the chicken pox vaccine between 12 and 18 months of age. Older children, and even teens and adults, can also receive the vaccine at a later age if they have never had the virus, especially if they are in a high-risk group. For people over the age of 13 who have never had the virus and want to get the vaccine, they will need more than one dose (usually two) that are spread apart by four to eight weeks.
However, it’s important to know that the chicken pox vaccine doesn’t offer total protection from the virus. Some children, and adults, too, will still develop symptoms of chicken pox that can be treated by resting, soothing the skin and supporting the immune system.
In fact, varicella vaccination is not as effective as the natural immunity that develops from having the virus. (4) Plus, among otherwise healthy children, most cases of chicken pox are not severe and will heal without much intervention.
If you do choose to vaccinate, it’s important to be aware of possible side effects so that you can recognize them if they occur and contact your health care provider.
Keep in mind that the chicken pox vaccine is not approved for use by pregnant women, people with certain immune system conditions, or people who have allergies to microbes and antibiotics that are used in the vaccine.
9 Natural Remedies for Chicken Pox Treatment
1. Don’t Scratch Itchy Skin
This is the first rule of chicken pox treatment: The best thing to do when a chicken pox rash is healing is to leave the bumps, blisters and scabs alone, avoiding scratching the skin as much as possible. Picking at or scratching a chicken pox rash can actually make the rash worse, prolong symptoms, potentially lead to an infection, and/or contribute to increased skin scabbing and scarring. Some people choose to wear gloves over their hands, or put gloves on their children if they have a rash, in order to prevent unknowingly scratching their skin while they sleep.
2. Soothe Inflammation By Applying a Cool Compress
When skin becomes very itchy, swollen or red, gently apply a cool, damp compress to the skin throughout the day as a basic chicken pox treatment. Use a natural fabric like cotton and avoid putting ice or high heat directly on the skin.
3. Take An Oatmeal Bath
You can reduce skin dryness and itchiness associated with chicken pox by keeping your skin moist and utilizing oatmeal’s natural skin-calming qualities. Oatmeal has many natural soothing properties and helps relieve all types of irritation of the skin, including contact dermatitis and other causes of itchiness. (5)
Try taking a warm (but not very hot) bath once or more daily and adding uncooked oatmeal or colloidal oatmeal (finely ground oats that form a powder to be used for soaking) to provide relief from itching. (6) Read directions in order to know how much colloidal oatmeal is best to use. Soak in the bath for 10 to 15 minutes or longer, if you’d like. Another chicken pox treatment option is to apply topical colloidal oatmeal creams or lotions directly to your skin.
4. Apply Honey, Baking Soda, Vinegar or Antihistamine Lotion to the Skin
Baking soda is a widely available, inexpensive ingredient that is known to have anti-itch properties and help soothe skin inflammation. It may help to neutralize acids present in the skin and reduce irritation due to rashes. Baking soda can be applied in small amounts to itchy skin, but shouldn’t be used if skin is broken, raw or bleeding.
Start by adding about 1 teaspoon of baking soda to a small amount of warm water, either creating a paste or dissolving the baking soda, then dabbing it over the skin with a cloth. Leave the solution to set and dry. It’s best to test a small section of your skin first to make sure it doesn’t contribute to any type of painful reaction or worsened symptoms.
Real, raw honey is another ingredient that is very beneficial for the skin, helping to calm inflammation, reduce the risk for scarring, and promote faster healing. (7) Purchase fresh, high-quality honey that has not been processed and heated to high temperatures, ensuring that its active ingredients are intact. To use honey on a chicken pox rash, coat the infected area of skin with a thin layer of gently warmed-up honey and then leave it to dry. Let the honey soak into the skin for at least 15 minutes. You can do this two to three times daily, in addition to adding honey to smoothies or teas to support your immune system.
Yet another ingredient that some people find effective for reducing skin itching and swelling is raw apple cider vinegar (ACV). You can either add about 1 cup of ACV to a bath, or use about 2–3 tablespoons mixed into a glass of water that you dab a cloth into and then gently apply to the skin. Just be careful that you don’t ever apply ACV to broken skin or open wounds.
5. Use Neem Oil & Jojoba Oil
Neem oil has many natural antiviral and antioxidant properties that help to soothe inflamed, swollen skin. It’s known to help reduce itching, clustering of blisters, pain and scarring associated with many different rashes including chicken pox. (8) Azadirachtin is the most active component found in neem oil, along with other compounds like fatty acids and vitamin E. And because neem oil contains many antioxidants, such as carotenoids and quercetin, it’s beneficial for overall skin health even after your rash is gone.
To use neem oil as a natural chicken pox treatment, combine about a half ounce of pure organic neem oil with 8 ounces of organic jojoba oil. Place your ingredients in a cosmetic container or small cosmetic bottle, mix well and then apply to the affected area of your skin liberally. You can use the solution on itchy skin about two or three times a day. Another option, if you’re able to find neem leaves, is to mash a handful of leaves into a paste with a bit of boiling water. Wait about 10 minutes for the mixture to cool, then apply to your skin. Neem leaves can also be added to baths, just like essential oils or oatmeal.
Keep in mind that you should not use undiluted neem oil on your skin as it can be very strong, so make sure to combine it with another carrier oil. It’s recommended that you always try a very small amount on a patch of skin first to make sure you don’t have any adverse reaction.
6. Apply Soothing Essential Oils
Lavender essential oil can be added to the neem/jojoba recipe above to further help provide relief from itching and promote skin healing. Lavender oil contains numerous active ingredients that soothe swelling, itching, redness and discomfort, plus it may help to prevent infections or scarring. It’s been found to contain chemicals including linalyl acetate and linalool, which are considered to be very mild compounds with a long history of safely promoting wound healing and skin health. (9)
7. Stay Hydrated & Eat Soft, Bland Foods
Some people with chicken pox will develop a fever, feel nauseated or deal with vomiting, become dehydrated or lose their appetite. You can help prevent dehydration symptoms by drinking fluids throughout the day (especially lots of plain water or herbal tea) and by eating hydrating foods, in particular fruits and veggies.
A bland diet is usually best to prevent nausea and vomiting while overcoming chicken pox, so try to avoid eating overly-processed, heavy or spicy foods. Eating nutrient-dense, healthy foods will enhance your immune system and boost your ability to help fight off the virus quickly. So, as much as possible, eat foods high in vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin A and all sorts of antioxidants.
If sores develop inside your mouth due to chicken pox, then eat mostly soft, easily-digested foods that aren’t so painful to swallow. Helpful foods and drinks to have while you’re recovering from chicken pox include:
- bone broth
- puréed veggies
- light soups
- fruit smoothies
- mashed sweet potatoes
8. Antiviral Herbs & Supplements
- Vitamin C
- Astralagus Root
9. Take an Over-the-Counter Pain Medication If Needed
If your fever becomes very high or you experience other symptoms like body aches, headaches or a stiff neck, then you can take an OTC painkiller to relieve chicken pox discomfort. The safest options are acetaminophen or ibuprofen. But be aware that you should never take aspirin if you have chicken pox (or give it to your children), as this is associated with serious complications, including Reye’s syndrome.
Natural painkillers like peppermint essential oil or Epsom salts added to a warm soaking bath can help ease body aches and swelling. If your skin feels very inflamed and itchy, then you might also want to take an OTC antihistamine, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl). Additionally, you can apply an OTC antihistamine lotion to itchy areas of the skin, such as calamine lotion (the pink lotion that is commonly used on mosquito bites).
Related: Microneedling Benefits for the Skin
Precautions When Treating Chicken Pox
As mentioned above, chicken pox treatment is usually straightforward and doesn’t normally require medical intervention. There are certain circumstances, however, in which someone with chicken pox should get emergency care — for example, if the person is pregnant, nursing, immunodeficient or younger than 6 months old.
To reduce the risk for complications, it’s important to visit a doctor or even the emergency room right away if you notice any of the following serious signs and symptoms associated with chicken pox complications:
- A rash that develops into an infection, becoming very swollen, warm, tender or painful.
- High fever (higher than 102 F or 38.9 C)
- Neurological problems and changes
- Severe vomiting, very stiff neck, dizziness, disorientation, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, or tremors.
- Chicken pox is the common name for the varicella-zoster virus, which causes symptoms like a very itchy, highly-contagious skin rash, fever, abdominal pains, body aches, headaches and general discomfort.
- Most of the time chicken pox will not need to be treated by a doctor; you can usually find relief with natural chicken pox treatment. However, sometimes complications are possible in which treatments like antiviral medications may be needed.
9 Home Remedies for Natural Chicken Pox Treatment
- Don’t scratch.
- Apply a cool compress.
- Take an oatmeal bath.
- Apply baking soda, apple cider vinegar, honey or an antihistamine lotion.
- Use neem and jojoba oils.
- Apply essential oils.
- Use antiviral herbs and supplements to boost immune function.
- Stay hydrated and eat a bland diet.
- If all else fails, or you have a fever, try OTC pain medicine. Don’t take aspirin.