Medications for Chickenpox

The information provided here is meant to give you a general idea about each of the medications listed below. Only the most general side effects are included, so ask your healthcare provider if you need to take any special precautions. Use each of these medications as recommended by your healthcare provider, or according to the instructions provided. If you have further questions about usage or side effects, contact your healthcare provider.

Prescription Medications

Antiviral Medications

  • Acyclovir
  • Valacyclovir
  • Famciclovir


Varicella immune globulin (IG)

Over-the-Counter Medications


  • Benadryl
  • Antipyretics



Prescription Medications

Antiviral medications

Common name:

  • Acyclovir

Acyclovir is an antiviral drug that may be recommended for patients who are at risk for moderate or severe chickenpox, such as children 12 or older, adults, or any person with:

  • Compromised immune systems, for any reason
  • Skin disorders, especially eczema
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Use of corticosteroids or other immunosuppressant drugs for cancer, transplants, or chronic conditions

Acyclovir given to persons of any age may help decrease the duration and severity of chickenpox and shorten the time of contagiousness to others. It is most effective when started in the first 24 hours after onset of chickenpox. Its effectiveness decreases significantly if begun more than 72 hours after the onset of the rash.

Acyclovir can be taken orally. For adults, there is some evidence that the related drugs valacyclovir and famciclovir might be more effective. Acyclovir can be given by vein for those who are severely sick or those who are hospitalized, especially when the highest possible dosages are required.

Possible side effects include:

  • Nausea
  • Kidney problems, especially with the IV form or in dehydrated patients. Because a high dose of acyclovir is used to treat chickenpox, it is important to drink plenty of fluids to avoid crystal formation in the kidneys as it is cleared by the body.
  • Special precaution in those with kidney failure or using other drugs which could be harmful to kidneys


Antibiotics are only given when a bacterial infection is present, such as when the chickenpox rash has become infected by staphylococcal or streptococcal organisms. Some of these organisms may be resistant to common antibiotics, especially when infection is acquired in the hospital.

Possible side effects include:

  • Hives
  • Rash
  • Intense itching
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Development of further antibacterial resistance

These are signs of an allergic reaction and require immediate medical attention.

Immune Globulin

Common names include:

  • Varicella-zoster immune globulin

Immune globulin is a blood product that contains antibodies to the chickenpox virus and may be given to prevent chickenpox.

  • It is given by injection immediately after exposure to the VZV virus (within 96 hours)
  • It is usually only given to people who are at risk for severe complications from the disease. These include:
    • Adults
    • Newborns whose mothers have chickenpox
    • People who are immunosuppressed or very ill
    • Pregnant women
  • Some preliminary evidence suggests that immunization given immediately after exposure may also be effective in reducing a susceptible person’s risk of catching chickenpox.

Over-the-Counter Medications


Common name:

  • Diphenhydramine

Antihistamines are used to reduce the itch that comes from the rash. The medication can be taken orally or applied to the skin.

The most common side effect of oral antihistamines is drowsiness. Topical diphenhydramine can produce a severe allergic skin rash. It can also cause severe sedation due to absorption from injured skin. It is generally not recommended for treating chickenpox.



Acetaminophen is taken to control the high fever caused by chickenpox.

  • Note : Aspirin is not recommended for children or teens with a current or recent viral infection. This is because of the risk of Reye syndrome. Ask your doctor which other medicines are safe for your child.


Ibuprofen is taken to control the high fever caused by chickenpox.

Note : Ibuprofen should not be given to anyone with peptic ulcer disease, kidney failure, high risk of bleeding disorder, or known hypersensitivity. Special caution should be used in people with congestive heart failure, liver or kidney disease, high blood pressure, and those on anticoagulant.

Special Considerations

If you are taking medications, follow these general guidelines:

  • Take your medication as directed. Do not change the amount or schedule.
  • Ask what side effects could occur. Report them to your doctor.
  • Talk to your doctor before you stop taking any prescription medication.
  • Do not share your prescription medication.
  • Medications can be dangerous when mixed. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you are taking more than one medication, including over-the-counter products and supplements.
  • Plan ahead for refills as needed.


Chickenpox. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: . Updated June 19, 2017. Accessed March 14, 2018.
Chickenpox. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at:
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Updated January 2017. Accessed March 14, 2018.
Chickenpox (varicella). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at:
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Updated June 28, 2016. Accessed March 14, 2018.
Last reviewed March 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board James P. Cornell, MD
Last Updated: 3/15/2015

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