5 Scary Complications Measles Can Cause

Measles, a once-common viral infection, was once mainly controlled with vaccines. The United States averaged around 60 cases of measles from 2000 to 2010. A recent outbreak of the virus has spread to 21 U.S. states as well as D.C. and has affected 107 people in six months.

Measles can be a seriously taxing and potentially fatal disease for small children. And while you may think you’re safe from the disease, the virus can cause other severe complications especially for at-risk groups of people.

Ear infections

Doctor examining patients ear

Ear infections are a lesser-known complication of measles. | Martin Barraud/Getty Images

A bacterial ear infection is one of the most common complications of measles. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that almost 30% of U.S. citizens affected by measles suffer from an ear infection as well in the U.S. One out of 10 children with measles contract an ear infection that can result in permanent hearing loss.

Encephalitis — a condition that results in brain swelling — is to blame for the hearing problems. It damages the nerves of the brain and can lead to significant hearing loss or deafness. Sensorineural hearing loss, the kind measles causes, is incurable. Prevent it by preventing measles from the start by vaccinating young children.

Bronchitis and laryngitis

Doctor check throat of a little boy with tongue depressor

Throat Examination | iStock.com/LeventKonuk

Measles can inflame the larynx and bronchial tubes, or the inner walls that line the main air passageways in your lungs. This can lead to acute infectious bronchitis, which occurs after a virus (like measles) invades the upper respiratory tract.

Spot developing bronchitis early by identifying a dry cough that produces thick, yellow mucus in children. Those infected may complain of a painful cough or chest pain as well along with the symptoms of a common cold (muscle fatigue, exhaustion, and a sore throat).

Measles can cause vision loss and blindness

Using mobile in bed

Seek medical attention if you notice random light sensitivity. | Tomwang112/iStock/Getty Images

Children infected with the measles keratitis virus may experience extreme light sensitivity and notice consistent tearing. Children with poor diets and vitamin A deficiencies are more susceptible to eye complications as a result of measles.

“Measles virus can cause inflammation of almost any part of the back of the eye including the retina, blood vessels, and optic nerve. Patients may lose vision due to swelling or scarring of the retina,” Amir Kashani, M.D., told the USC Roski Eye Institute.

Pregnant women should also remain vigilant about preventing measles. Jesse Berry, M.D., relayed that contracting measles while pregnant puts the baby at risk of visual impairment. While it may not be your first concern, it’s important to seek immediate treatment if you or your child notice any eye sensitivity from the measles.

Pregnancy complications

Photo of pregnant woman sleeping on the couch

Measles can seriously complicate a pregnancy. | iStock/Getty Images

Measles can lead to vision complications for your unborn baby among other terrifying health issues. The disease can cause preterm labor, low birth weight, miscarriage or stillbirth, and even maternal death. Pregnant women should seek out GP attention as soon as possible if they come into contact with someone with measles and are unsure about their immunity.

Pregnant women cannot be vaccinated during pregnancy even if they’ve come into contact with an infected person. The measles vaccine contains a live virus that can be dangerous to pregnant women.


Tissue, flu medicines and tea on bedside table sick woman

Pneumonia is a serious potential complication of measles. | iStock.com/CandyBoxImages

Pneumonia is a common complication of measles — nearly one in every 20 children with measles will contract it — and people with weak immune systems are most at risk. It’s important to catch developing pneumonia symptoms as they appear to prevent severe sickness, potential hospitalization, and even death.

Pneumonia shows similar symptoms to the flu at first, but more drastic symptoms appear as the infection progresses. These include a fever as high as 105 degrees Fahrenheit, bloody mucus, chills, shortness of breath, extreme fatigue, chest pain, rapid heartbeat, and blue lips.

The recent measles outbreak has left many people afraid to travel. The best way to prevent measles is to get vaccinated and vaccinate young children. The CDC reports other steps you can take to prevent measles as best as possible:

  • Wash your hands often
  • Clean your hands with hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. If you need to touch your face, make sure your hands are clean
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve when coughing or sneezing
  • Avoid close contact like kissing, hugging, and sharing anything with people who are sick

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