Due to the complex political, economic, and safety history of vaccinations in the US over the past 3 decades, increasing numbers of parents have chosen not to vaccinate their children. Though disease rates have remained relatively low in the past decades, with periodic epidemics occurring among both vaccinated and unvaccinated populations even prior to the recently increased rates of non-vaccinated children, recent outbreaks of measles have raised increased attention to this phenomenon.
But this article is not about vaccination choices or politics. It is simply about the symptoms of measles, risks of the infection, and natural options for supporting children with symptoms of uncomplicated mild to moderate measles.
Regardless of your vaccination decision or beliefs, if your child has the measles, you need information on how to respond with healthy tips that keep your child feeling comfortable and getting well.
What is the Measles?
Measles is a highly infectious seasonal disease, appearing most commonly in late winter and early spring!
Measles is transmitted person to person and through the air via respiratory droplets — in other words, through coughing and sneezing. It affects nearly every susceptible person who comes in contact with it. A spherical, single-stranded RNA virus of the morbillivirus strain, closely related to the canine distemper virus, causes the disease. It usually affects primarily the upper respiratory system with cold-like symptoms, and the skin in the form of a very itchy rash, but in serious cases, can affect the nervous system.
The time between exposure and symptoms is 9-14 days. It is most contagious during the early stages of the illness, generally for 2-4 days before the onset of the rash and for 4 days after the rash appears. Initially the symptoms look like any other cold, with fever, fatigue, runny nose, cough, and conjunctivitis. The fever normally stays in the range of 101° to 103° F at this stage.
Experiencing natural measles nearly always confers permanent immunity to the disease.
Measles SymptomsThe symptoms of measles include:
Measles Risks and ComplicationsIn recent national outbreaks, measles complications requiring hospitalization approached 30% of all cases, which is quite high.
Serious complications of measles are rare, but can include:
Conventional Treatment for MeaslesIf your child has the measles, it is important to let your child’s doctor know with a phone call to the office. Given the contagious nature of the condition, it may not be advisable to simply bring your child in for an exam and sit around the waiting room running the risk of passing the infection on to others. So your child’s doctor may have you brought right into an exam room if an appointment seems necessary. Either way, informing your child’s doctor that you suspect measles is important for gathering public health statistics.
Measles treatment consists primarily of keeping your child comfortable, maintaining bed rest, and providing quiet activities to help pass the time. Rest and fluids are key.
Antibiotics are not effective against measles, as it is a viral infection; however, physicians may prescribe antibiotics in the event of a secondary infection. Acetaminophen (for example, Tylenol) or ibuprofen (for example, Advil) may be given to control fever, but aspirin should never be given to children suspected of having measles as it can lead to a serious complication known as Reye’s syndrome.
Should your child at any time exhibit symptoms such as a painful cough with difficulty breathing (possibly pneumonia), severe headache or convulsions (possibly encephalitis), drooling or difficulty swallowing, hearing difficulty, or if there is any other indication that your child is seriously ill, SEEK MEDICAL CARE IMMEDIATELY.
While for most children, measles is a lengthy and very uncomfortable but relatively minor illness, see your doctor if your child seems especially uncomfortable or if the illness is not following a typical course.
Keep the diet light and nourishing. Give soups and meals of simple, soft whole grains (brown rice, millet, quinoa) that are easy to swallow if there is a sore throat, steamed vegetables, small amounts of protein (beans, fish, poultry), and seasonal fruits in small amounts. Fluids are critically important for preventing dehydration. Give water frequently. A squeeze of lemon or lime in the water is refreshing and drinking through a straw can make it easier to get fluids down if there is a sore throat. Also give herb teas freely (see below) or as recommended. Avoid all sodas, bottled fruit juices (except for occasionally, and then only diluted), orange juice, and milk.
The following supplements can help to boost immunity, may prevent secondary infections, and speed recovery. I do not recommend these for children under 2 years old without support from your child’s physician.
Follow age appropriate dosing on the supplement packaging. General ranges are provided for children ages 2-14 below.
The herbal recommendations below are considered safe and are used to help with the symptoms of measles.
High quality bulk herbs for making teas can be purchased from Mountain Rose Herbs online.
Fever itself is not an illness; it is the body’s healthy and active response to illness. Fever plays an important role in the immune response, stimulating the production of antiviral chemicals such as interferon. Keeping your child hydrated and making sure there are no underlying infections, for example pneumonia, is essential. Tepid baths can be helpful. Medications like Tylenol and ibuprofen typically only bring the fever down by 1 degree, but do reduce inflammation so can relieve aching. If your child has a high fever (>103° F), seems listless or unresponsive, has a severe headache or other serious symptoms, or if the fever persists much beyond when the measles rash appears, please have your child seen by his or her doctor.
Many of the herbs that can be used to keep children comfortable during fevers, and which are mildly antimicrobial, also keep the fever from soaring too high. These include lemon balm, catnip, elder, spearmint, and chamomile. These are best used singly or combined as a tea.
Cool Down Tea
Herb Pharm Children’s Herbal Compound can be used similarly and instead, and is available in most health food stores. Put 1 tsp. in 1 cup of warm water to serve as a “tea” or give 1-2 dropperfuls every 2-4 hours.
Here is a good general blend for reducing inflammation, fighting viral infection, relieving cough and aches, reducing swollen glands, and bringing out the rash.
Alternatively, Gaia Herbs Milk Thistle Yellow Dock Supreme can be used as directed.
For more severe and persistent coughing, you can add the following cough syrup to the daily herbs, giving one teaspoon to one tablespoon as needed:
Aunty A’s Cough Syrup Blend from my book Naturally Healthy Babies and Children includes:
Alternatively, Gaia Kids Cough Syrup for Dry Coughs can be used as directed.
To reduce the itching and inflammation associated with measles rash, bathe the child daily or as needed in infusions of calendula flowers and peppermint leaves by steeping 1 small handful of each in 2 quarts of water for 20 minutes. Add to the bath water.
An oatmeal bath is also soothing and easy to prepare. Take a handful of rolled oats (the same kind one uses to make oatmeal for breakfast) and put them into a white sock. Tie the sock closed with a rubber band and place it in warm water in the bathtub. Squeeze the sock under water until the oats start to release a milky liquid, and gently rub this over your child’s skin. It is emollient and really relieves the itching for awhile.
Chamomile compresses are reliable for soothing sore eyes. Simply make a cup of chamomile tea, strain well, and apply to the closed eyelids with a cloth, warm or slightly cool as preferred by your child. Repeat as often as needed.
If there is ear involvement, use Garlic-Mullein Eardrops (below). The drops can be made at home or use Herb Pharm Mullein Garlic Ear Oil.
To prepare Garlic-Mullein Eardrops at home, place 1 peeled, chopped whole bulb of garlic and 1/2 ounce of mullein flowers into a pint jar. Fill the jar entirely with olive oil and stir the ingredients lightly with a chopstick or butter knife to release air bubbles. Cap and store in a cool, dark place for 1 week.
Strain and place in a clean bottle. Label and store for use. To apply the eardrops, have the child lie on his or her side with the affected ear facing the ceiling. Pull back gently on the earlobe and drip five drops of slightly warmed oil into the ear canal. (Warm the oil by placing the bottle in hot water. Test the oil on the inside of your wrist to avoid burning the child.) Do not insert the dropper into the ear canal, just the drops. Have the child lie in this position for five to ten minutes. Repeat every few hours, treating both ears if necessary.
After a long illness, I recommend allowing some time for repair and recovery. A few days of extra rest at home before returning full on to activities and school, a light healthy diet with good quality protein for rebuilding strength, and some fresh air can work wonders. I also often recommend immune tonic herbs, for example, Elderberry syrup and a good quality medicinal mushroom extract to be taken for a few weeks post-illness.
I hope your child, vaccinated or not, is able to by-pass getting sick this spring. I hope these approaches come in helpful should you need them.
To Your Good Health!
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