Measles is a highly contagious viral infection that can affect your eyes. With the recent outbreaks of measles, this article focuses on the eye manifestations of this highly contagious viral infection.
One of the early and common symptoms of measles is inflamed eyes (conjunctivitis). This type of “pink eye” usually develops along with fever, cough, and a runny nose, before the measles rash appears.
Viral conjunctivitis causes eye redness, a burning sensation, eye discomfort, swollen eyelids, and watery discharge from the eye. It usually clears up on its own without any treatment.
Cleaning the eyes with water and a sterile pad, applying warm or cool compresses, and using eye lubricating drops can help relieve the discomfort of conjunctivitis, but it is not a cure.
Eye Complications of Measles
But there are other, more serious eye complications that can develop from a measles infection that are sight threatening:
- Keratitis is an infection of the cornea (the clear front surface of the eye) that develops from the measles virus or from a bacterial infection that developed secondary to the measles virus. Keratitis can cause ulcers and scarring on the cornea if left untreated and corneal scarring can cause vision loss, so get medical attention if an increase in eye pain, extreme light sensitivity, eye redness, or excessive tearing are noticed. Antiviral or antibiotic eye drops are used to treat keratitis, depending on whether it is a viral or bacterial infection.
- Optic neuritis is a relatively rare complication that affects the optic nerve. It is inflammation of the insulating sheath (myelin) covering the bundle of nerve fibers that transmit visual information from the eye to the brain. Common symptoms are eye pain, loss of side and/or color vision, and seeing flashing lights. Corticosteroids are used to treat optic neuritis.
- Retinopathy is inflammation of the retina and is also a rare complication of measles. If there is vision loss, blurred vision, fluctuating vision, or dark or empty areas in the visual field, see a retinal specialist immediately
- Blindness from measles is the single leading cause of blindness among children in low income counties, accounting for an estimated 15,000 to 60,000 cases of blindness per year.
Treatment with Vitamin A
The World Health Organization recommends vitamin A supplementation for all children diagnosed with measles.
“All children diagnosed with measles should receive two doses of vitamin A supplements, given 24 hours apart. This treatment restores low vitamin A levels during measles that occur even in well-nourished children and can help prevent eye damage and blindness. Vitamin A supplements have been shown to reduce the number of deaths from measles by 50%.”
The best means of prevention is vaccination. The measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine is a safe and effective way to prevent contracting measles. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that children get one dose of the MMR vaccine at age 12 to 15 months and another at age 4 to 6 years.
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