Chickenpox usually can be diagnosed based on how the chickenpox rash looks. For a healthy child, describing the rash over the phone to a doctor (rather than visiting the office) may be all you need to do.
Anyone who is over age 12, or pregnant, or has a weak immune system needs to be checked by a doctor as soon as you suspect chickenpox. When given right away, treatment can help prevent serious complications. For more information, see When to Call a Doctor.
At the doctor’s office, your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and will examine you. This usually gives your doctor enough information to find out if you have chickenpox.
Chickenpox during pregnancy
A woman who has had chickenpox early in her pregnancy may want to have her fetus checked for birth defects. This can be done with a fetal ultrasound during the second trimester.
Medicines for chickenpox can:
- Prevent chickenpox by making you immune to it.
- Help make chickenpox less severe after you are exposed or have symptoms.
- Help relieve chickenpox itch, pain, and fever.
If you (or your child) are not immune to chickenpox and have been exposed to the virus, call your doctor. The right medicine depends on your health, age, how long it’s been since you were exposed to the virus, and your symptoms.
Vaccination to prevent chickenpox
To prevent chickenpox, most people can get the chickenpox vaccine. To fully protect you, two doses are needed before you’re exposed to the virus.
Some people can’t get the chickenpox vaccine. They include women who are pregnant and people who have ever had an anaphylactic reaction to gelatin, neomycin, or any other substance in the vaccine.
Medicines to help reduce the severity of chickenpox
- Chickenpox vaccine. If you are exposed to chickenpox and you get the vaccine within 3 days, you may not get sick, or your illness may be mild. If you can’t get the shot within 3 days, getting it up to 5 days after exposure may still help.2
- Immunoglobulins. Immunoglobulins (IG) help the body’s immune system recognize and destroy harmful bacteria and viruses in the body, such as the varicella virus. Pregnant women, newborns who are at high risk for getting chickenpox, and people who have certain immune system problems can get a shot of chickenpox IG soon after they are exposed to the virus. It can help prevent infection and help them feel better sooner.
- Antiviral medicine. Antiviral medicine, such as acyclovir, is usually used to treat adults and people who have weak immune systems. It’s used after you start to have symptoms of chickenpox. Healthy children usually don’t need this medicine when they have chickenpox. It isn’t known whether antiviral medicines reduce a person’s chances of having complications of chickenpox.
Medicines to relieve pain and discomfort
After you have symptoms of chickenpox, you can take over-the-counter medicines to help relieve discomfort. Check with your child’s doctor before giving medicine to your child.
- Acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or ibuprofen (such as Advil) to reduce pain and fever. Follow the package instructions carefully. If you give medicine to your baby, follow your doctor’s advice about what amount to give. People over age 20 also can take aspirin to reduce fever. Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 20, because of the risk of Reye syndrome.
- Oral antihistamines (such as diphenhydramine) to relieve itching. Talk to your doctor before using any antihistamine lotions or creams on yourself or your child. And check with your child’s doctor before giving antihistamine pills to your child.
Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to you or your child if you get a skin infection from chickenpox blisters.