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What is a Chickenpox Rash?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Feb 29, 2024
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People develop chickenpox rash from the varicella-zoster virus. Skin symptoms have three distinct stages and these can be partly used to determine level of contagiousness. Generally, the rash indicates contagion until all sores have fully scabbed over. Several additional things can be said about this rash: it is itchy, it varies in how much or where it appears, and it can occasionally become complicated by infection.

Stages of the chickenpox rash are sometimes described as papule, vesicle, and scab. Initially, small slightly raised bumps or papules appear on the body in various areas. These can occur on the trunk, scalp, arms, legs, face, feet, and hands, but they may also develop in the throat or the vagina. During the first two to four days of chickenpox, additional papules may occur.

The papules then become filled with fluid, marking the beginning of the vesicle stage. The vesicles ultimately break, and the sores become open before they finally create scabs. Until all sores are scabbed over, the virus is contagious, but it’s also contagious two days before the papule stage begins. This means it’s not always possible to know if a person is a contagious, but state of contagion can be more reasonably guessed after the rash appears.

The amount of chickenpox rash that actually occurs on the body tends to vary. Sometimes babies and toddlers have this illness and will develop one or two papules at most. When the illness is very mild, additional symptoms like fever, stomach pain or general illness may not even be noticed, and it might be possible for someone to have had chickenpox without family members knowing. In contrast, older people, like teens and adults, tend to have the worst rashes and they may feel sicker in other ways, too.

Anyone who has had a chickenpox rash can testify to how much it itches. Soothing baths with oatmeal or baking soda, calamine lotion or any approved anti-itch creams can be of use. Trying to keep people from scratching is most important. Scratching creates risk of infection and manually removing scabs causes scarring.

Watching out for infection is one of the most important parts about caring for a chickenpox rash. Evidence of pus, or a hot feeling or tenderness in any area of the rash, could suggest infection. Doctors should also be notified if rash location is close to the eyes, as this could cause sight damage without intervention.

Total duration of the chickenpox rash is about 10 days to two weeks. Increasingly, as the scabbing over stage is reached, extreme itchiness should recede. After scabs have fallen off, marks may still remain for a while, and rash in fragile areas of the skin may leave scars. Using anti-scar products might help minimize this to some degree. People can often avoid chickenpox rash and its discomfort by getting the varicella vaccine.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By Rundocuri — On Jun 17, 2014

@raynbow- Though the scratching itself won't cause scarring, removing the chickenpox rash scabs will. This frequently happens when people scratch at the rash and cause the scabs to come off before they are ready to.

By using ointments and creams to ease the itching sensation that comes along with chickenpox, people suffering from this illness will be less likely to develop scars.

By Raynbow — On Jun 16, 2014

Does scratching a chicken pox rash make scarring more likely to develop? I work with children, and see this problem frequently. Though it's hard to keep them from scratching, I would hate to see them develop permanent scars.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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