Chickenpox Home > Symptoms of Chickenpox

Itchy blisters that appear all over the entire body are the most common chickenpox symptom. Low-grade fever and tiredness are also common symptoms. Although these can be controlled and treated at home, more serious symptoms can occur during a chickenpox breakout. These may include high fever, vomiting, and diarrhea.

An Introduction to the Symptoms of Chickenpox

Symptoms of chickenpox can begin with one to two days of low-grade fever and tiredness. These early symptoms do not always occur before the chickenpox rash develops.
Early chickenpox symptoms are followed by itchy blisters that first appear on the trunk, face, and scalp. These blisters can spread over the entire body, causing between 250 and 500 itchy blisters. The rash can appear in three or more successive waves. Eventually, the blisters crust over.
Most symptoms of chickenpox occur in people less than 15 years old. Prior to the use of the chickenpox vaccine, the disease had annual cycles, peaking in the spring of each year.

More Serious Chickenpox Symptoms

More serious symptoms of chickenpox include:

How Long Do Symptoms Last?

Chickenpox is generally a mild disease in children. Symptoms most commonly last about 5 to 10 days. Children usually miss 5 or 6 days of school or childcare due to the disease.

Complications of Chickenpox

About 1 in 10 children who first have chickenpox symptoms will have a complication serious enough to require a visit to a healthcare provider. Most complications are caused by an infection from bacteria. These bacteria can cause problems such as:
  • Skin or soft tissue infections
  • Pneumonia (usually more severe in adults and in children over 13 years old)
  • Bone infections (osteomyelitis)
  • Joint infections (septic arthritis)
  • Toxic shock syndrome.
Other serious complications directly related to the chickenpox virus can include:
  • Infection of the brain (encephalitis)
  • Bleeding problems
  • Cerebellar ataxia.
If your child experiences any of the following serious symptoms of chickenpox, call your healthcare provider immediately:
  • Fever lasts longer than four days or rises above 102ºF
  • Seems extremely ill
  • Difficult to wake up or is confused
  • Has difficulty walking
  • Has a stiff neck
  • Is vomiting repeatedly
  • Has difficulty breathing
  • Has a severe cough.
Certain groups of people are more likely to have complications with chickenpox. These include:
  • Adults
  • Infants
  • Adolescents
  • People with weak immune systems from either illnesses or from medications such as long-term steroids.
Many people are not aware that before a vaccine was available, there were approximately 11,000 hospitalizations and 100 deaths from chickenpox in the United States every year. Approximately one child and one adult died each week.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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