Chickenpox in humans has nothing whatever to do with chickens. In olden times, many people thought that the reddish bumps from human chickenpox looked as if chickpeas were fastened to the skin. This may explain the name, but no one is quite certain. The disease is highly contagious and very common. Chickenpox mainly afflicts children under the age of ten, although older children and adults can become infected as well. The consequences of an infection can be more serious in older patients, which explains a long-held popular view that it is better to experience chickenpox in early childhood if it must be experienced at all.
More formally known as varicella, chickenpox is caused by a herpes virus called Varicella zoster virus (VZV). A victim of chickenpox almost always will be permanently immune to another, later infection, although the existing viral infection remains dormant and may emerge again in adulthood as herpes zoster, also called shingles. Overt or subtle malnutrition may contribute to childhood vulnerability to chickenpox infection.
Related: How to cure Shingles
Chickenpox is Itchy and Miserable
The onset of chickenpox is classically heralded by a headache, mild fever, and weakness. This is followed within 24 hours by the eruption of numerous small, red papules, most of which appear on the upper back and chest. More severe cases may see the papules spread to the face and the legs. In a later stage, these papules swell with fluid, turning into blisters. The blisters eventually become pustules and scab over. The scabs usually fall off quickly. In the course of the disease, new papules will appear even as older papules are maturing into blisters, pustules or scabs. Quite often, the skin eruptions are intensely itchy. Eventually, new papules will stop appearing and the scabs will all fall away, marking the passing of the active bout with the chickenpox virus.
Since the development of a vaccine, the incidence of chickenpox has sharply decreased in many countries. Still, many children and adults continue to develop the disease. Chickenpox can spread by contact with fluid from broken blisters or by exposure to airborne particles from coughing or sneezing. Patients may be contagious up to 2 days before the appearance of papules. Disease symptoms often are mild, but some patients will suffer complications that should be addressed by a physician. The virulent stage of the disease may last anywhere from 10 to 21 days, but it will more typically last 14 to 17 days.
Patients suffering from full-blown chickenpox will be itchy, feverish and bored from being cooped up all day in bed. Managing children is especially difficult. They succumb easily to the urge to scratch, leading to the spread of highly contagious fluid from broken blisters. Typically, an infected child will be quarantined at home for a week after the first papules break out.
A number of home remedies can be applied to assist a chickenpox patient. Here they are:
Oatmeal is a well-known natural remedy for itching from chickenpox. 2 cups of oatmeal should be cooked for 15 minutes in 2 liters of water, then poured into a cotton cloth bag and a strong cord tightened around the opening of the bag to seal it shut. The permeable cotton bag with the oatmeal should be allowed to bob about freely in warm bathwater, which should be swirled about and otherwise exercised until the water turns murky from the substance of the oatmeal. Itching will likely be significantly reduced by direct, whole-body contact with this subtle organic water. Children can play in the water, but the contents of the bag should not be spilled and care should be taken to expose every inch of skin to the bathwater.
Brown vinegar may be added in the amount of ½ cup to warm bathwater. Using this solution of brown vinegar likely will relieve itching. This treatment is widely used and effective as well.
Pea water, which is the water left from cooking fresh green peas, can be applied to the skin to relieve itching.
A simple cold compress, which is a soft, absorbent cloth imbued with ice-cold water, can be applied to painful skin to sooth it.
Honey, which contains complex natural healing agents, can be applied to blotched skin to speed up the healing of pustules.
Vitamin E oil squeezed from gelatin capsules can be rubbed onto infected skin to combat irritation and to help fully heal dry, itchy scabs. It can be purchased either in oil or gel capsules, both are equally effective.
Carrot and coriander soup may be prepared by cutting up 100 grams of raw carrots and 60 grams of fresh coriander into small pieces, then boiling the ingredients for some time and discarding the residue. This healthful soup can be taken once daily.
Sandalwood oil fastens the removal of scars. Both sandalwood powder and oil are available in local stores. When using in powder form it can be mixed with rosewater to make the paste little more effective. The applied paste should be allowed to stay for at least couple of hours before washing.
Herbal teas are mildly sedative and can be made with herbs such as marigold, basil, chamomile and lemon balm. A touch of cinnamon or honey can be added to improve the taste of tea made from any of these ingredients, and lemon can be added to any of the non-lemon teas. This soothing treatment can be taken few times a day and slowly sipped, will help with coughing.
Fresh juice diet is considered by some people to be helpful. The patient is fed copious quantities of raw vegetable and fruit juices, especially lemon juice, for a few days immediately after the onset of symptoms. The juices are replaced by fresh fruits for few days, followed by a gradual return to a normal, balanced diet heavily favoring raw vegetables and fresh fruits.
More conventional, widely available remedies consist of the liberal application of calamine lotion, which soothes itching and aids healing, and the judicious use of non-prescription antihistamines, which can help keep itching under control. In any case, plenty of fluids should be quaffed to keep the body hydrated.
Special Measures for Children
Young children suffering from chickenpox should be kept out of the sun, garbed with soft, thin clothing, and kept cool inside rooms with adequate ventilation. Woolen clothing is irritating and should be avoided. Fingernails should be clipped short to reduce damage to delicate skin from the inevitable scratching. Following the disappearance of pustules and the healing of scabs, a strong sunscreen should be applied to a child’s skin before permitting renewed exposure to sunlight. Additional remedies that are especially helpful for children appear below.
Lukewarm water baths as needed may help with external itching. Couple of times a day is sufficient. Adding some margosa leaves provide better results.
Salt water, prepared with a ½ teaspoon of salt in a cup of warm water, may be given for gargling and swishing to relieve irritation from pustules that occur inside the mouth. The salt water should not be swallowed. Normal brushing and flossing should be encouraged.
Baking soda may be stirred into a glass of warm water and the weak mixture sponged onto a young patient, leaving the baking soda-impregnated water to dry on the skin. This will limit scratching by reducing the itching sensation. Related: Benefits of Baking Soda.
Turmeric powder boiled with few basil leaves can be taken. Drinking few cups per day is sufficient.
It’s important to keep the child away from other children and pregnant women during the initial period. Mostly till first week after the blisters initially appear. Except as expressly advised by a competent health professional, children and teenagers should not be be given salicylates such as aspirin while suffering from chickenpox because of the risk of Reye’s syndrome, which is a rare, serious disorder that may result in brain damage. A physician should be consulted if blisters appear near the eyes or if a child experiences an earache, a headache or excessive drowsiness. Convulsions or severe problems with breathing require immediate medical attention.
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