It's a moment many parents probably dread: Your child comes home from school complaining about itchy red bumps. It's the first sign of chicken pox. Although chicken pox is a very common (and relatively uncomplicated) illness, it is still important to make your child as comfortable as possible and to watch out for possible signs of complications. The following tips may help make the experience less taxing on both children and parents.

Symptoms of Chicken Pox

Chicken pox is a common illness among children under 12 years old. An itchy rash of spots that look like blisters or bug bites often appear all over the body and may be accompanied by flu-like symptoms. The bumps may appear in any part of the body, including the mouth, in between fingers and toes, and even in the genital area. The rash usually begins as small bumps that then fill with fluid and eventually scab over. It typically lasts about a week.

Symptoms usually go away without treatment, but because the infection is very contagious, an infected child should stay home and rest until the symptoms are gone, according to the Nemours Foundation.

Treatment for Chicken Pox

Because chicken pox is caused by a virus, your doctor will not prescribe antibiotics. However, they may be required if the sores become infected by bacteria or if the blisters become open from excessive scratching.

You can help relieve the itchiness, fever, and discomfort of chicken pox by:

  • Using cool wet compresses or giving baths in cool or lukewarm water or oatmeal baths every three to four hours for the first few days.
  • Patting (not rubbing) the body dry.
  • Putting calamine lotion on itchy areas.
  • Giving your child foods that are cold, soft, and bland because chicken pox in the mouth may make drinking or eating difficult. Avoid feeding your child anything highly acidic or especially salty, like orange juice or pretzels.
  • Asking your doctor or pharmacist about pain-relieving creams to apply to sores in the genital area.
  • Giving your child acetaminophen regularly to help relieve pain if your child has mouth blisters.
  • Asking the doctor about using over-the-counter medications for itching.

Remember to never use aspirin to reduce pain or fever in children with chicken pox. It has been associated with Reye's syndrome, which can lead to liver failure and even death.

Chicken Pox Complications

Generally, complications don't arise from chicken pox. However, the Nemours Foundation recommends calling your doctor if your child has any of the following symptoms:

  • A fever that lasts for more than four days or rises above 102° Fahrenheit (38.8° Celsius);
  • A severe cough or trouble breathing;
  • An area of rash that leaks pus (thick, discolored fluid) or becomes red, warm, swollen, or sore;
  • A severe headache;
  • Unusual drowsiness or trouble waking up;
  • Trouble looking at bright lights;
  • Difficulty walking;
  • Confusion;
  • Vomiting; or
  • A stiff neck.

Preventing Chicken Pox

At one time, chicken pox seemed inevitable for children, but now a vaccine is available to prevent children from getting the itchy disease.

Children should get the chicken pox vaccine (also known as the varicella vaccine) between the ages of 12 and 15 months. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a booster shot for children at 4 and 6 years old for further protection. The CDC also recommends that people 13 years and older who have never had chicken pox or received the chicken pox vaccine get two doses of the vaccine at least 28 days apart.