Most people will recover from measles after around 7 to 10 days, but sometimes it can lead to serious complications.
Who's most at risk?
Complications of measles are more likely to develop in certain groups of people.
- babies younger than 1 year old
- children with a poor diet
- children with a weakened immune system (such as those with leukaemia)
- teenagers and adults
Children who are older than 1 year and otherwise healthy have the lowest risk of developing complications.
More common complications of measles include:
- diarrhoea and vomiting, which can lead to dehydration
- middle ear infection (otitis media), which can cause earache
- eye infection (conjunctivitis)
- inflammation of the voice box (laryngitis)
- infections of the airways and lungs (such as pneumonia, bronchitis and croup)
- fits caused by a fever (febrile seizures)
Less common complications of measles include:
- liver infection (hepatitis)
- misalignment of the eyes (squint) if the virus affects the nerves and muscles of the eye
- infection of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord (meningitis) or infection of the brain itself (encephalitis)
In rare cases, measles can lead to:
- serious eye disorders, such as an infection of the optic nerve, the nerve that transmits information from the eye to the brain (this is known as optic neuritis and can lead to vision loss)
- heart and nervous system problems
- a fatal brain complication known as subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE), which can occur several years after measles (this is very rare, occurring in only 1 in every 25,000 cases)
Measles in pregnancy
If you're not immune to measles and become infected while you're pregnant, there's a risk of:
- miscarriage or stillbirth
- your baby being born prematurely (before the 37th week of pregnancy)
- your baby having a low birthweight
If you're pregnant and think you have come into contact with someone with measles and you know you're not immune, you should see a GP as soon as possible.
They can advise you about treatment to reduce your risk of developing the condition.
When to seek immediate medical advice
Go to your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department or call 999 for an ambulance if you or your child have measles and develop:
- shortness of breath
- a sharp chest pain that feels worse with breathing
- coughing up blood
- fits (convulsions)
These symptoms may be a sign of a serious bacterial infection, requiring admission to hospital and treatment with antibiotics.