Adult chickenpox
August 8, 2010 12:01 AM   Subscribe

Tell me your experiences with adult chickenpox. I'm 26 years old and was diagnosed yesterday. Today the spots have spread from my scalp, chest and back to my face in a real bad way, and this thread has me freaking out a bit.

I don't want to think about vision loss and encephalitis... it's bad enough the thought of permanent scarring (I've got enough damn acne scars already). How long did it take you to get over it, what helped, and did you look poxy for months afterwards?

Anyone reading this thread who didn't get chickenpox as a child; DO get the vaccine. The most infuriating this about this is that I had been considering getting the vaccine for months, and kept putting it off because I was too busy.
posted by moorooka to Health & Fitness (30 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I had chickenpox when I was 24. It was a bad case with pox sites inside my eyelids, mouth and all over my girly bits. Hideous. And really damn uncomfortable, but I was lucky in that although they were all disgustingly pus-filled, they weren't itchy so I could resist picking at the scabs.

It took me a week to feel normal again (I had fever and a lot of associated aches and pains) and the spots took a couple of weeks to fade down to pink (I'm very fair so it was noticeable for a long time). Speak to your pharmacist about something to put on the pox to dry them up and cut down on itching. DO NOT PICK the scabs or they'll scar like bastards. And then see if your pharmacist can give you something to reduce redness/scarring - I used some sort of rose-hip + vitamin E cream but that was some years ago and I'm sure there are better things available.

You have my sympathies. It's a disconcerting, humiliating, ridiculous thing for an adult to have and people should be vaccinated.
posted by ninazer0 at 12:32 AM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, I should point out that I had no other complications (other than a sudden desire to wear my fringe right over my face) and the risk is quite small. In this instance, the internet is Not Your Friend when looking up symptoms. Hope you feel better soon! :)
posted by ninazer0 at 12:33 AM on August 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

Did they give you a prescription for an antiviral? Both Zovirax and Valtrex have been shown to reduce the severity and length of chickenpox. There's some evidence that they work best when taken early in the infection, so if you don't already have a script, get one immediately.
posted by Violet Hour at 1:15 AM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

I had the chickenpox when I was 23. I was working in Greece at the time. I got so ill I had to go to the hospital for about 5 days. I had pox *everywhere*. Hundreds and hundreds of them. I had no idea how horrible I looked until one of the nurses tending to me saw a wedding photo I kept in my bag ( I had gotten married a few months earlier) and she actually began to cry. A different nurse explained that she hadnt realized what I looked like normally, and she was afraid I would be scarred for life! I was released and had to stay in a hotel waiting for dr clearance to fly back to the states. When I was cleared I showed up at the airport for my flight and the airlines refused to let me on board. I still looked too hideous and contagious! I would say by week three I was looking decent again.
Out of maybe 200 pox on my face, I was only left with two scars. Neither is visible anymore. So I can tell you that even though scarring is possible, it is not a given.
I wish I could give you advice about what products to use to lessen the itching, but I think I was given a shot of something strong in the hospital and that helped me somewhat. The rest was just willpower, just not allowing myself to itch. Not easy.
Try to stay well hydrated, well rested, and get through the first few days, which in my opinion were the worst. If you start to feel as if something is going really wrong, if you are scared about certain symptoms, or a friend or family member sees something about your condition that alarms them, do not hesitate to call your doctor, or even head to an ER. While I am certain you will get through this just fine when it's all said and done, there is no harm in being cautious about certain symptoms, especially anything that compromises your airway (pox can form in windpipe, throat etc) or anything that becomes severe ( headache, fever etc.) just go with your gut and dont feel shy about involving your doctor.
I wish you all the best....this too shall pass.
posted by Rapunzel1111 at 1:17 AM on August 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

I had it when I was a kid so I played nurse maid for a close friend who got it at 32.

It was over in an active state after close to two weeks. Because of the efforts to reduce itching and inflammation, he had very few wrecked pox spots and looked pretty normal within another week. Here's what seemed to help:

Take oatmeal baths - you can get the colloidal oatmeal powder in bags at the drugstore or even grocery store. One or two a day in warm water. I improved on this a little by putting a couple drops of tea tree oil, a few of lavender oil, and a couple glugs of witch hazel into the bath. Rinse but don't scrub, then wrap up in a robe or soft sheet while still damp instead of drying off. It'll keep the itching down.

After being wicked dry, put on calamine. It's difficult to dab an entire body with calamine, so get some type of mister/spray bottle that can handle it - you can mix it with a little water (say, 3 parts calamine to 1 part water, shaking before each use) to make it easier to spray. Use cotton balls to dab up the extra and make little compresses for when individual spots drive you crazy - you press the ball really hard against the spot and it can be somewhat soothing.

Wetting lengths of cheesecloth or even hand towels and putting them in the freezer to be unrolled and wrapped around miserable sections can feel really good. You can also freeze calamine-soaked cotton balls for when you have a few really awful spots.

As much as you can, just stay wrapped in a loose cotton sheet or sarong or things along those lines. The less you have rubbing against you, the better, and spots will heal faster if they're not bound/blocked from air. Avoid anything that could irritate your skin. Instead of changing your whole bed every night, fold a different flat sheet in half each night and tuck yourself in the middle of the other layers using it as protection.

Anything you can do that is supposed to be anti-inflammatory, do it. And rest a LOT - the more stress you're under, the worse it'll be, since it nests in nerve bundles.

I feel for you (and everyone else who gets it as an adult) - honestly one of the most miserable things I ever saw another adult go through and made me so glad I'd had it when little.

Get well soon!
posted by batmonkey at 1:18 AM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Your profile doesn't indicate your gender, but if you're male make sure you're being seen by a doctor. Don't want to scare you, but adult chicken pox has more complications for males than for females.
posted by amyms at 1:19 AM on August 8, 2010

I got chickenpox aged about 35.

I have never ached so badly in my life. I spent a week in bed with the electric blanket on the highest setting and still couldn't ease the body ache. Lordy, I cried buckets!

The aching gradually eased through the second week. By then the spots had almost completely disappeared. I seemed to tire very easily for another week or so after that.

I scratched a spot on my forehead and it ended up scarring. I resisted scratching the rest and they didn't scar.

Oatmeal baths and calamine lotion (used as suggested above) were great relief for the itching. Over-the-counter painkillers did nothing to reduce the aching (and it's not like you can pop to the doctors surgery or the hospital to get anything stronger, with people running from you like you're a leper).

I always thought the idea of pox parties - where parents take their kids to play with someone who had chickenpox so they were deliberately infected - were almost child abuse. Then I got it and I can honestly say that if my kids hadn't given it to me, I would have done everything in my power to get them infected as children once I knew how bad it was for adults. (This was just before the vaccine became widely available here.)
posted by malibustacey9999 at 1:53 AM on August 8, 2010

Got it in my late twenties- wouldn't wish it on anyone. Hundreds of excruciatingly itchy spots everywhere and in every orifice. The only thing that relieved it was to apply heat, like a hot water bottle. My doc told me I need only panic if a sore appeared on my eyeball, but he was in quite a hurry for me to get out of his office. The first three or four days were the worst! Fortunately was spared the major complications you mentioned. I also had no sick leave at the time and lost a lot of income- with hindsight probably should have taken a couple more weeks off though as although I did not look "poxy" as you say, I felt really crappy for a good month afterwards- long after the spots had cleared up. The vaccine wasn't standard when I was a child but I think it is now... get vaccinated peeps!

Also- stay away from pregnant women if you can, or at least forewarn them.
posted by Coaticass at 2:43 AM on August 8, 2010

Use cotton balls to dab up the extra and make little compresses for when individual spots drive you crazy - you press the ball really hard against the spot and it can be somewhat soothing.

I wouldn't do this -- I had chicken pox as a kid, and was mostly good about not scratching the marks, but have one scar from the scab coming off because I was pressing it really hard to relieve the itch. (I was just using my finger, not a calamine-lotion-soaked cotton ball, so, maybe that makes a difference, I don't know.)
posted by oh yeah! at 4:08 AM on August 8, 2010

This was me six years ago.

Go to the doctor. Get on antivirals. You'll be all spotty and itchy, but you'll feel a lot better after a few days.

After I was given acyclovir, I felt better right away and spent the next few weeks mostly bored and covering up all my mirrors.

The scalp was the worst for me, especially at night. I apparently kept on trying to shampoo my hair with calamine lotion. Also bad was my throat and mouth, which had a few, and meant that any time I ate something remotely acidic, I felt it pretty badly.

Also, I finally ended up popping most of my spots, just because I was so fed up with the itching. I scarred a bit, but there's only one or two that are particularly noticeable -- especially the one that's in the middle of my forehead, like an awesome third eye.

Good luck coping with this.
posted by Katemonkey at 4:11 AM on August 8, 2010

When you're done with the chicken pox and as soon as your doctor will allow you to do so, get vaccinated against shingles. My wife recently suffered through it and she said it was the worst pain she'd ever experienced (and she's delivered three children).
posted by wabbittwax at 4:34 AM on August 8, 2010

I had it at thirty.

It was certainly bad enough-like having a really really really bad flu-but I did not get it "in every orifice" and as far as I know I had no scarring either. However I did know someone else who got it as an adult and they got it even internally.

Call the doc. And be watchful for complications, since that is one of the main concerns when having this as an adult.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:05 AM on August 8, 2010

Got it when I was 27 and oh boy, do I sympathize with you. It was rough, but it does get better. Don't pick!

Three things: PLEASE don't look up any more on the internet; it'll drive you mad with worry.

Second, if you haven't, please get to a doctor (or even ER, seriously) to get this treated aggressively. There are anti-virals that can help (and the earlier you get on them, the better) and even heavy duty prescription cream. This is not the time to tough it out.

Third, talk to you doctor about avoiding shingles and try to get vaccinated asap. I ended up with a shingles outbreak about 5 years after my pox, and it's really really painful.

But you will get better. Rest and stay hydrated.
posted by dzaz at 5:12 AM on August 8, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the supportive comments guys. It has been a day of agony with many more to follow I'm sure but it really helps to know I'm not the only miserable bastard that has experienced this. I started the Zovirax tablets today which are damnably expensive for some reason so I hope they make a difference. I'm also taking antihistamines for the itching. I ache all over and have no strength to move but I'm counting my blessings; nothing in any orifice yet. but oh god my scalp!!!!!!!!!
posted by moorooka at 5:36 AM on August 8, 2010

Oh yeah...experiment with different antihistamines if what you're on isn't really helping.
posted by dzaz at 6:40 AM on August 8, 2010

A student of mine had it in his 20s, he was uncomfortable and BORED (he was in the army and got put in isolation for days) but had no problems or scarring.

On the plus side, most of your friends can come visit you and keep you company, since they've already had it.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:47 AM on August 8, 2010

I got it at 23-24 (first year working in an grammar school)). My boyfriend had had fleas at his apartment the month before so we both assumed they were flea bites/acne. I worked the whole time I had them and didn't have too hard of a time with them. I had one scar on my forehead (i pooped all mine because I didn't know they were pox) but it faded quickly. Good luck, I hope you have as easy a time with them as I did.
posted by saucysault at 6:58 AM on August 8, 2010

I got the chicken pox at 19--never had it as a child, though I was vaccinated, which may have lessened my symptoms. I didn't have a fever until a few days after it started, and it was miserable for about a day, but then I was just dealing with the sores and scabs and itches. I didn't find that oatmeal baths and calamine lotion helped much--basically, the only way I got through it was dosing myself with benadryl and sleeping practically the entire time. I saw a nurse practitioner, but she said that meds would only help if I started them within the first 24 hours of the illness, and unfortunately, I wasn't able to see her until a few days after it started, due to the fact that I was traveling when it started.

I was poxy for about three weeks, I guess, and even after everything scabbed over, I felt ugly and unsightly and deformed. Luckily, with time, my skin (mostly) went back to normal, aside for a couple scars on my forehead from the very first sores, which I had mistaken for zits at the time, and a few other marks which remained pinkish-red for a few months, but eventually turned flesh-colored.

The worst part about the illness wasn't so much the pain and scarring, which of course was awful, but just the depression and self-pity--not only that I had this horrible disease, but that it was interfering with my vacation, and afterward, was keeping me from going back to work, and that I would have to go back to school looking like a monster. It's always hard to remember that you won't always feel like this and you won't always look like this when you're going through it, but that's what you have to keep in mind.

Good luck and I hope for minimal scarring for you!
posted by litnerd at 7:14 AM on August 8, 2010

I had them at eighteen. Worst summer ever: I totally sympathize with you. Definitely stay hydrated and cool. Keep the air circulating at home. Stay in bed and sleep off as much as you can.

I ended up with some scarring on my scalp and one scar on my forehead.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:28 AM on August 8, 2010

I got them when I was 32, I think. There were 2 or 3 days of absolute misery, which it sounds like you're in now. The good thing about having them in the summer: you can wear as few clothes as possible. The bad: the pox will make you feel hotter. Don't scratch and you won't scar -- I have no scars at all. Lotions didn't help me, lukewarm oatmeal baths felt good but only while I was in them. You really just have to suffer through for a bit. My sympathies!
posted by chowflap at 9:29 AM on August 8, 2010

Well, so far I win; I was 41 when I got them, and celebrated that birthday spotty---yay. In my experience, with antivirals you're past the worst of it with the terrible body aches and fever, and the rest is just annoying and a little gross. Basically the battle in your body is mostly over, you won, but the battlefield is a mess. What really helped: frequent oatmeal baths, Calamine lotion, alternating pairs of soft pajamas and frequent change to clean sheets (if you don't have a washing machine, ask an immune friend to do some laundry for you---staying clean helps with the general feeling of yuck) and an watching an entire season of Sopranos or something to distract myself. Don't look in the mirror unless you have to, and if the itching is driving you mad try rubbing with your palm rather than scratching with your finger tips. And if you're scratching in your sleep, cut your nails way back.
posted by tula at 9:47 AM on August 8, 2010

OP, this is too late for you, but I want to leave it here for others in the future who may search. I'm 30 and never got chicken pox, so my parents and I decided I should get the vaccine when it first came out about 15 years ago. However, back then they only gave one dose and nowadays they give two. So if anyone out there got one dose as a teenager, you should go ahead and get a "catch-up" dose now.

(If you are a woman who is thinking about getting pregnant, you should get your catch-up dose several months before you start trying. Some sources say four months, others say six.)
posted by scarnato at 11:21 AM on August 8, 2010

Man, am I the only person alive who had a super-mild case? Spots everywhere, but nowhere weird like eyes. Feverish, but not itchy and it was certainly not even as bad as the flu. No scars whatsoever. I got it when I was sixteen, and they wouldn't even send me home from boarding school for it. Of course I passed it to several other hapless victims. None of whom had terrible symptoms or scarring either.

I had no idea you could take antivirals for this. Sounds like a good plan.
posted by tejolote at 11:28 AM on August 8, 2010

I got it at 28 last year and it sucked. My vagina, throat, scalp and the soles of my feet were the most affected. My then 5 month old baby had it too - my 3 yo brought it home from preschool... So having to care for another human being at the time when I just wanted to die was awful. One thing I found to be true: if you get it from a stranger it's not as strong as if you get it from a relative.
In the end it was a fucking nightmare but it lasted only 5 days. And the weight loss was not bad.
posted by uauage at 12:06 PM on August 8, 2010

Also, leave the blisters alone and you won't get scars.
posted by uauage at 12:08 PM on August 8, 2010

Mild case here;I got it about two years ago. I was in my mid twenties.

Lasted for long long three weeks, I looked really really bad and wasn't too eager to be in public.

The most annoying part for me was the scalp, it was just strange to feel those bumps all over my head, plus, after taking a warm shower those scabs would open up and leech creating an extra crusty hair.

The first few days I tried the calamine deal and oatmeal and some other products but I found them ineffective at best. They created more uncomfort than relief. Calamine flakes out and messes everywhere, also your experience might be better. Also, Zovirax, at least for me didn't help at all.

After that It was just me and the scabs, I did scratch them pretty bad, against every bodies pleas, and was horrified by having huge scars on my face.

After a few months, I was scars free, and everything healed quite miraculously.

My only advice would be to use that time for some quality book reading-movie watching-video games binge, you deserve it.

I wish you luck!
posted by Sentus at 4:02 PM on August 8, 2010

tejolote, I had what I guess was a pretty mild case at 27. My fever never was higher than around 101 and lasted only about 5 days- about the same as a flu and not nearly as bad as when I had bronchitis the following year (which was the sickest I've been as an adult). Pox were itchy but really aside from them, it was really not that different from flu. In fact it was better than the flu to the degree that I had very little in the way of lung involvement (I'm asthmatic so that was a relief). I took benadryl periodically for the itching which also put me to sleep, which was nice.

I was sick for maybe two weeks. Again, really less than what I've had with the flu- most recent one took me a good month to recover.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 7:28 PM on August 8, 2010

oh yeah!: having it be a soft thing like a cotton ball - especially a moistened soft thing - pressed against the spots makes a big difference over the direct pressure of a finger. But I should have clarified - don't press so hard that you're bursting blisters. Just press enough to get calamine to run out the side then lift again.

moorooka: yay for getting meds! not everyone can afford those (my friend couldn't), so that should work a treat. I hope your case runs through quickly and with no complications.

nthing getting that shingles vaccine. I've had it. Horrible. More debilitating and painful than you'd think. Neat scar, though!
posted by batmonkey at 7:46 PM on August 8, 2010

Had 'em at 27. Fortunately, I could live at my parent's house while I suffered for a week. (What's cool is my boss said I needed a note from my doctor - but took my mother's word.)

Don't scratch. Like another responder said, it leaves a scar. I have one small scar above an eyebrow where I scratched. I put socks over my hands in case I scratched in my sleep.

I used aloe vera on the pox. Alleviated a lot of the itching and, I believe, prevented scarring.

I got some wonderful pills from the doctor. Can't tell you what they were (this was 24 years ago) but they were small, diamond (or square), black, and knocked me out for 10 hours at a time.

Back to work after a week.
posted by Man with Lantern at 11:32 AM on August 9, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone to replied. It's now been about 3 weeks and I'm completely better. It was only really two days of unbearable misery, then another 2 or 3 days of flu and discomfort as the blisters started to dry out, after that I was okay, a week later I had cleared mostly up and was feeling fine. but I was lucky with a mild dose I think, and getting the antivirals quite quickly. The blisters on my scalp gave me some nerve damage so I had a sharp pain stabbing my head for a couple of weeks later, but that seems to be better now.

my face is relatively unscathed and I was able to resist scratching and picking for the most part, although I couldn't help picking the scabs on my scalp. there are a few deep scars on my forehead under my fringe, and one medium sized one in the middle of my nose! ah well it would have been worse if I was pretty to begin with.

all in all - if you never got it as a kid and you're reading this: GET VACCINATED
posted by moorooka at 3:34 AM on August 22, 2010

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