Skip to Content

Health Library

  • Chickenpox: Controlling the Itch

Chickenpox: Controlling the Itch

Introduction

When you or your child has chickenpox, the rash that develops can be very uncomfortable.

  • Although the severity of the rash varies from person to person, all people with chickenpox need to minimize scratching the rash to prevent:
    • Infection from bacteria under your fingernails or on the skin of your hands.
    • Scarring.
  • You can treat itching from the chickenpox rash at home with baths and certain over-the-counter medicines and lotions.
  • Check with your child's doctor before giving these medicines to your child.

How can you reduce itching?

Home treatment methods can help reduce the itchiness of the chickenpox rash. Try the following suggestions to make you or your child more comfortable and keep scratching under control.

Baths

Warm to cool baths can help relieve itching. Take baths for 20 to 30 minutes as often as needed to stay clean and soothe your itchy skin. Always stay with young children when they are in a bathtub.

  • Do not use soap, or use only a mild soap. Soaps that are made for sensitive skin or recommended for babies are usually mild.
  • You can add soothing ingredients to the bath.
    • Oatmeal baths such as Aveeno and Actibath can be bought in most food and drugstores.
    • You can make your own oatmeal bath by mixing 1 cup (240 mL) of oatmeal with 3 cups (720 mL) cold water and adding it to the bath water.
    • Other ingredients, such as cornstarch [about 2 cups (480 mL) per bath] or baking soda can also be added to the bath to help soothe skin.
  • Blot the skin dry after bathing. Don't rub the skin.

Compresses

You can apply cool compresses to itchy areas.

  • Use a soft, absorbent cloth, such as a soft washcloth. Wet the cloth with cool water and apply the cool compress directly to the skin.
  • You can also make an oatmeal paste and apply it to itchy areas.

Lotions

You can apply soothing lotions that can help dry chickenpox blisters. But talk to your doctor before using lotions that contain antihistamines. You could try lotions with:

  • Phenol, menthol, and camphor, such as calamine lotion.
  • Oatmeal, such as Aveeno Lotion.

Prevent skin irritation

Some general hygiene practices can help prevent skin irritation and scratching.

  • Wear loose-fitting cotton clothing.
  • Change clothes and bedsheets on a regular basis.
  • Use a mild laundry detergent if clothes or linens seem to be irritating the skin.

Antihistamines

Lotions or creams that contain antihistamines should not be used for chickenpox. But sometimes antihistamines that are taken by mouth will help relieve itching.

  • Antihistamines taken by mouth may help prevent you or your child from scratching the rash and blisters, especially during sleep.
  • Some antihistamines can be bought over-the-counter. If you use them, carefully follow the directions on the label. Check with your child's doctor before you give them to your child.

Help children avoid scratching and infection

It can be especially challenging to control a child's scratching. Try the following methods to help keep your child from itching the rash or help prevent skin infection that can result from scratching:

  • Clean and closely trim the child's fingernails.
  • Have a small child wear mittens or clean cotton socks on his or her hands to prevent scratching. Or use light bandages over open blisters.
  • Wash the child's hands often.
  • Distract the child when you find him or her scratching.

Use caution

Take general precautions to control itching and to prevent additional problems.

  • Avoid getting hot and sweating, because these trigger itching. Stay out of sunlight. A child can play outside in the shade.
  • Avoid using antihistamine lotions. You may accidentally apply too much medicine, which can be harmful. Ingredients to avoid include:
    • Diphenhydramine.
    • Lidocaine.
    • Pramoxine.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer John Pope, MD - Pediatrics
Specialist Medical Reviewer Thomas Emmett Francoeur, MD, MDCM, CSPQ, FRCPC - Pediatrics
Current as of March 12, 2014

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

© 1995-2014 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.

Decision Points

Our interactive Decision Points guide you through making key health decisions by combining medical information with your personal information.

You'll find Decision Points to help you answer questions about:

Interactive Tools

Get started learning more about your health!

Our Interactive Tools can help you make smart decisions for a healthier life. You'll find personal calculators and tools for health and fitness, lifestyle checkups, and pregnancy.

Symptom Checker

Feeling under the weather?

Use our interactive symptom checker to evaluate your symptoms and determine appropriate action or treatment.

Connect With CentraCare