Chickenpox is caused by a virus called Varicella Zoster virus (VZV). This virus is related to the herpes virus and causes chickenpox in children and Herpes Zoster (or shingles) in adults (although very rare, shingles can also occur in children).
Chickenpox starts off with a few red spots or bumps that change into blisters or pimples, and then into open sores that form a crust. This eruption can be accompanied by fever and sores in the mouth and genital area. The fever is usually directly related to the state of the rash: the bigger the rash, the higher the fever.
Chickenpox is typically a benign, self-limited disease, but serious complications can arise, including shingles and secondary bacterial infections (most often with Strept or Staph bacteria) like impetigo or cellulitis. The risk of complications is highest in people with compromised immune systems, newborns or adults. Although rare, serious complications in children include pneumonia, deep tissue infection, joint infections and encephalitis.
As with other viral infections, I recommend the following:
- Increase the dose of Vitamin D3 for the first 3 days to ‘boost’ the immune system. The daily winter dose is usually 1000-2000 IU per day, but depends on your child’s age and their vitamin D status.
- Other immune boosters that I like to use are Probiotics, Omega 3′s and Elderberry syrup
- Other herbs that have been used as immuno-stimulants in adults are olive leaf, Astragalus and Lysine (Lysine has been shown to help with herpes viruses, which are, as mentioned above, related to the chickenpox virus)
Adequate water intake is very important, in addition to any smoothies and fresh juices that are consumed. The daily target of water intake (in fluid ounces) can be calculated by dividing your child’s weight by 2 (for example, for a 30 lb child, the goal would be 15 oz). This amount needs to be increased if fever is present.
- A diet rich in whole foods, with plenty of vegetables and fruits in a variety of colors. This “rainbow diet” has been shown to provide the phyto-nutrients needed to strengthen the immune system.
- Juices rich in vitamin A and C, such as fresh carrot juice or fresh squeezed lemon juice with water and honey
- Chicken soup (chicken should be organic or at least antibiotic and hormone free)
- Vegetable broth with shiitake mushrooms
- Smoothies with kale, cabbage, beet, broccoli
- Acerola cherries
- For painful mouth and throat ulcers, a soft diet should be used. Infants should receive fluids by cup, spoon, or syringe rather than bottle because the nipple can cause increased pain.
- Limit sugar and processed foods. No corn syrup. No sodas. Limit dairy, especially if mouth sores are present. Fermented dairy is OK (yogurt or kefir).
- Hydrotheraphy and “warming socks” (see below)
- Do not treat a mild fever with medications if it is below 101.5 and your child is feeling relatively OK. Studies have shown that children do better overall when some fever is allowed to continue during this illness. If medication is necessary because your child is bothered by the fever or the fever is high, then use acetaminophen (for example, Tylenol)
- Never use aspirin because of the risk of Reye’s syndrome
- Ibuprofen is also not recommended because it might increase the risk of severe streptotoccal skin infections
- How do you know your child is well hydrated when fever is present? He/she should be voiding at least 5 times per day and the urine should not be too dark in color.
Topical remedies that you can use to soothe the rash:
- Calendula cream
- Cool/lukewarm baths in which you can add 2 ounces (60 ml) baking soda per tub
- Calamine Lotion: apply lotion to the chickenpox that itch the most or massage them with an ice cube for 10 minutes
- Other options: Tea Tree Oil, oatmeal baths, Aloe Vera gel
- Rhus toxicodendron – this remedy is indicated in skin lesions which are similar to those of chickenpox, small vesicles containing a transparent clear liquid, and especially if the itching is improved by heat. Use 9-15c, use 3 pellets under the tongue, 2-4 times per day
- Mezereum – recommended in the later phase if the vesicles are covered with whitish crusts. Use 5c, 3 pellets, 2-4 times per day.
- If itching becomes severe or interferes with sleep, give oral Benadryl. Start with a lower dose to make sure your child does not get too drowsy. If a child with chickenpox gets too sleepy, you need to call your doctor or go to the ER to make sure he is not developing encephalitis, a rare but severe complication.
- Don’t use lotions containing Benadryl because they can be absorbed through the inflamed skin and cause side effects.
Trim fingernails and wash hands frequently to prevent impetigo (infected sores). Discourage picking and scratching.
This treatment acts to reflexively increase circulation and decrease congestion in the upper respiratory passages, head, and throat. It has a sedating action and many patients report that they sleep much better during the treatment. This treatment is also effective for pain relief and increases the healing response during acute infections. The warming sock treatment is best if repeated for three nights in a row, or as instructed by your physician.
- 1 pair thin cotton socks
- 1 pair thick wool socks
- Warm bath or foot bath
- Warm your feet first. This may be done by taking a hot shower or bath, or by simply soaking them in a tub of hot water for 5-10 minutes. This is very important as the treatment will not be as effective and could be harmful if feet are not warmed first.
- Take a pair of thin cotton socks and soak them completely in the foot bath water. Wring the socks out thoroughly so they do not drip and set them on the edge of the tub next to you. The socks should be cold by the time you are done warming your feet.
- When your feet are sufficiently warmed dry them with a towel.
- Get into bed.
- Place wet socks on your feet, cover them with thick wool socks, and immediately get under the covers and go to bed. Avoid getting chilled.
- Keep the socks on overnight. You will find that not only will the cotton socks be dry by morning, your feet will be as warm as little toasters!
Boyle,Wade,NDand Saine,Andre,ND. Lectures in Naturopathic Hydrotherapy. Eclectic Medical Publications,Sandy,OR. 1988.
Some additional useful information selectively quoted from the Seattle Children’s Hospital website (http://www.seattlechildrens.org/medical-conditions/symptom-index/chickenpox/)
- For females with painful vulva ulcers, apply petroleum jelly to the area as needed.
- For severe pain, use a numbing ointment such as 2.5% xylocaine ointment (no prescription needed) 4 times per day.
- For males with painful pox on the tip of the penis, this also works.
Contagiousness: Your child can return to child care or school after all the sores have crusted over, usually day 6 or 7 of the rash.
Expected Course: Expect new chickenpox every day for 4 or 5 days. Most children get 400 to 500 chickenpox.
Call Your Doctor If…
- Chickenpox looks infected (draining pus, scabs become larger)
- Gets any new chickenpox marks after day 6
- Conditions become worse
Call 911 If…
- Your child is not moving or is too weak to stand
Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) if your child…
- Looks or acts very sick
- Has red, tender areas or red streaks on her skin
- Very painful swelling or very swollen face
- Has a pickled red rash
- Is difficult to awaken, confused (delirious), has trouble walking or her neck is stiff
- Breathing is difficult
- Bleeding into the chickenpox
- Has a fever over 104° F (40° C) and has not improved 2 hours after taking fever medicine
- Is under 1 month old
- Is vomiting 3 or more times
- Has eye pain or constant blinking
- Has a chronic disease that causes decreased immunity (e.g., cancer)
- Has taken oral or inhaled steroids (e.g., asthma) within the past 2 weeks
- Has a chronic skin condition (e.g., eczema)
- Has chronic lung disease (e.g., cystic fibrosis)
Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) if…
- You think your child needs to be seen
- Teen 13 years or older has chickenpox
- Exposed to chickenpox or shingles within last 5 days and never received chickenpox vaccine
- Lymph node has become large and tender
- Fever present over 4 days
- Fever returns after gone over 24 hours
- Scab or sore is draining yellow pus OR becomes much larger in size than the others (size larger than a dime or 10 mm)
- Gets new chickenpox after day 6
Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours if…
- You have other questions or concerns
Parent Care at Home if…
- Chickenpox with no complications and you don’t think your child needs to be seen