It feels like a fever. Or maybe a cold. But when you look in the mirror and see spots, you know it's not a game of connect-the-dots. It's chickenpox.
And chickenpox sure do itch! Here's why: After the red spots appear on your body, they fill up with a clear liquid. These liquid-filled blisters are called vesicles (say: veh-sih-kulz). The vesicles release chemicals in your skin that excite the nerves that make you itch. The good news is that your skin is supposed to be itchy when you have chickenpox. Itching is a sign that your body is doing its job defending itself.
These nerves in the top layers of your skin tell the brain when something itches. They are the same nerves that get excited when you get a reaction to a mosquito bite. When these nerves are irritated, they send a message to your brain: "Something's on the skin! Get rid of it!" Your brain sends a message back to your hand and arm that says, "Scratch that itch!"
These nerves are not the same as nerves that tell your brain you are in pain, but they are similar. Pain nerves send a stronger signal to your brain than itch nerves do. When you scratch an itch, you actually cause a little bit of pain. When you scratch, the pain temporarily takes away the itchy feeling. But once the pain is gone, the itch comes back.
When Will the Itching Stop?
You may feel like the itching will never stop, but the good news is that after 3 to 4 days, you'll start feeling better. In a week to 10 days, the vesicles will have formed scabs and you won't be as itchy anymore.
In the meantime, try your best not to scratch. Scratching may spread germs from your skin that could cause an infection. Cut your fingernails short so you won't hurt your skin if you do scratch. Also, wash your hands often during this time. Keep busy and you won't want to scratch as much. Now is a good time to rest, read some books, play a board game, or watch a movie.
If your doctor recommends it, your mom or dad might help you apply some anti-itch cream or lotion. The doctor also might suggest you take a pill or liquid medicine to make you less itchy. These medicines can be especially helpful if you can't sleep because you're so busy scratching.
There's something else you could try if you're itching - oatmeal. And guess what? You don't eat it, you take a bath in it! Well, you don't exactly take a bath in a bowl of warm, gooey oatmeal, but your mom or dad can add some oatmeal or an oatmeal-based bath powder to the bath water. Ah, oatmeal. It's not just for breakfast anymore!
Reviewed and updated by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: March 2007