What is chickenpox?

Chickenpox is a highly contagious viral infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus. Along with flu-like symptoms like headache and fatigue, its most recognizable symptom is an inflamed, itchy, red rash that turns into fluid-filled blisters. The rash and blisters typically start on the face, chest, and back. They ultimately spread and cover the entire body.

In some cases, the rash may spread to the mucous membranes in your mouth. Chickenpox sores in your mouth, however, don’t look like the chickenpox blisters on your body. These sores look like raised bumps that last about a day. They then transform into ulcers that are shallow and yellow or gray in color. They also don’t crust over.

Chickenpox usually lasts less than two weeks. The majority of people who have had chickenpox are immune to having chickenpox again. There’s also a vaccine that’s considered to be about 94 percent effective, according to Vaccines.gov.

The general treatment for chickenpox is letting the disease run its course. But you can relieve symptoms by using the following:

  • Antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) can ease itchiness.
  • Nonaspirin pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) can relieve fever.
  • Over-the-counter topical lotions or creams, such as calamine lotion, can soothe itching.
  • A prescription antibiotic ointment can help treat infected blisters.

Don’t give children under 18 aspirin, especially if they have a viral infection like chickenpox. The combination of viral infections and aspirin has been associated with Reye’s syndrome, a rare yet potentially deadly condition.

Treatment if it spreads to the mouth

If chickenpox blisters spread to your mouth and tongue, it will add to your discomfort. But it isn’t usually considered serious.

If you have chickenpox in your mouth, your doctor will most likely recommend one or a combination of these regimens for treatment:

  • Bland diet. Avoiding hot beverages and spicy, salty, and acidic foods can limit the irritation and discomfort in your mouth.
  • Local anesthetics. Applying a doctor-recommended local anesthetic on the interior surface of your mouth and on your tongue can block the pain caused by oral sores.
  • Cold food. Consuming cold drinks and foods can help numb any discomfort.
  • Hydration. Drinking plenty of fluids — especially water — fights off dehydration. Dehydration can worsen your symptoms.
  • Oral hygiene. Keeping your mouth and tongue clean with a mild toothpaste and flossing regularly will help prevent a secondary bacterial infection. Gargling with plain water will also help by washing away bacteria and debris.

Treatment if the condition is serious

If your doctor feels you have a more severe case of chickenpox, they may prescribe an antiviral medication such as acyclovir (Zovirax) or valacyclovir (Valtrex).

There’s no cure for chickenpox. But once the disease has run its course, most people are immune to chickenpox for the rest of their lives. However, the varicella-zoster virus will live on in nerve tissue.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1 in 3 Americans will develop another rash driven by the same chickenpox virus, called shingles. Shingles is a painful and itchy rash that typically lasts about a month.

With the highly effective chickenpox vaccine released in 1995 and aggressive vaccination program, chances are you’re in the clear. It’s becoming increasingly less likely for you to be exposed to or contract the disease.

If you do suspect that you may have been exposed to chickenpox and are worried that you’ve contracted the virus, see your doctor. They can make a quick and easy diagnosis and recommend a course of treatment.