Measles is a serious, highly contagious viral infection of childhood. Symptoms of measles include fever, malaise, cough, runny nose, and conjunctivitis. The symptoms get worse over a period of a few days, and on approximately the fourth day, a rash appears. The rash is raised, splotchy, reddish-brown or purplish-red in color, and mildly itchy. It begins on the face and neck and spreads to the trunk, extremities, and feet, lasting about five to seven days. Red spots with a bluish-white center (known as Koplik’s spots) appear on the inside of the mouth about twelve hours before the red rash first appears.

Once a person is infected with the measles virus, it can incubate for nine to fourteen days before signs of illness develop. A child with the measles is considered contagious for at least seven days after the beginning of the illness. Usually, the disease is self-limiting and runs its course within ten days. The fever falls, making the sufferer feel more comfortable in general, and the rash fades to a brownish color that gradually disappears as the outer layer of skin is shed. Once this happens, the child is no longer contagious.

The seriousness of measles lies in the potential for complications following the illness itself. Ear infections are one common complication. Pneumonia and encephalitis (an inflammation of the lining of the brain) are also possible, and more serious, complications. If your child’s fever climbs to a very high level, if she has a seizure, or if you notice any changes in her level of consciousness or mental function, seek medical advice immediately. These may be symptoms of encephalitis, which can be fatal.


The first signs that a child is coming down with the measles usually include some combination of the following:

  • Fever.

  • A stuffy and/or runny nose.

  • A cough.

  • Red and possibly itchy eyes that may be sensitive to light.

  • Small red spots in her mouth.

    Three to five days after these initial symptoms, a child with measles will develop a rash with the following general characteristics:

  • It is splotchy and brownish-pink in color.

  • It begins around the ears and/or on the face and neck, then spreads over the rest of the body (although in mild cases, the arms and legs may not be affected).

  • It is mildly itchy.

  • It lasts for four to seven days before fading away.

  • Conventional Treatment

    Treatment for measles is primarily aimed at alleviating symptoms while the virus runs its course. A child with the measles may run a fever as high as 104°F (in some cases higher), so fever control is a principal concern. You can give your child acetaminophen (in the form of Tylenol, Tempra, and other medications) or ibuprofen (Advil, Nuprin, and others) to bring down fever and ease overall achiness and malaise.

    Note: In excessive amounts, acetaminophen can cause liver damage. Be careful not to exceed the proper dosage for your child’s age and size. ibuprofen is best given with food to prevent possible stomach upset.

    Never give aspirin to a child who has–or
    who you suspect may be coming down with-the measles. The combination of aspirin
    and a viral infection has been linked to the development of Reye’s syndrome,
    a serious disease of the liver and brain.

    Because measles is a viral illness, antibiotic therapy is ineffective and therefore not appropriate. If your doctor confirms that your child has developed a secondary, bacterial infection, such as an ear infection, antibiotics may be prescribed to fight the secondary infection.

    Make sure your child gets plenty of rest and drinks plenty of fluids. Also, because measles often causes a heightened sensitivity to light, your child will probably be more comfortable in a dimly lit room.

    Dietary Guidelines

    Lots of fluids are essential to prevent
    dehydration. Keep a feverish child well hydrated. Offer fruit-juice popsicles,
    spring water, herb teas, soups, and diluted juices. During the recovery period,
    immune-boosting astragalus and vegetable soup is a good choice as well

    Eliminate fats as much as possible. Fats
    are difficult to digest under normal circumstances, and are even harder to
    digest when the digestive system is weakened by infection. Undigested fats
    contribute to a toxic internal environment.

    Nutritional Supplements

    For age-appropriate dosages of nutritional supplements, see Dosage Guidelines for Herbs and Nutritional Supplements.

    Vitamin A aids in healing mucous membranes. Give your child one dose of vitamin A, once a day, for ten days.

    Vitamin C and bioflavonoids help to stimulate the immune system. Three to four times a day, give your child one dose of vitamin C in mineral ascorbate form, and an equal amount of bioflavonoids, for one week. The following week, give the same dosage, but two to three times a day. During the third week, give the same dosage, two to three times, every other day. Then continue to give one-half dose, once a week, for three weeks.

    Zinc stimulates the immune system and promotes healing. Give your child one dose, twice a day, for ten days.

    Note: Excessive amounts of zinc can result in nausea and vomiting. Be careful not to exceed the recommended dosage.

    Herbal Treatment

    For age-appropriate dosages of nutritional supplements, see Dosage Guidelines for Herbs and Nutritional Supplements.

    If your child is feeling very restless, give her one dose of chamomile tea, twice a day.

    Echinacea and goldenseal combination formula helps clear an infection, supports the immune system, and soothes the skin and mucous membranes. Echinacea is a powerful antiviral. Give your child one dose, every two hours, until the fever breaks. Then give her one dose, three times a day, for one week.

    Note: You should not give your child echinacea on a daily basis for more than ten days at a time, or it will lose its effectiveness.

    An herbal fever-reducing tea will help to bring down your child’s temperature, decrease chills, and increase perspiration. Combine equal parts of some or all of the following: lemon balm leaf, chamomile flower, peppermint leaf, licorice root, and elder flower. For an older child, a little honey can be added to improve flavor. Give your child one dose, four times a day, for two or three days. A nursing mother may take one adult dose, four times a day, instead of giving the tea directly to her baby; its healing properties will be passed to her baby in her breast milk. The tea should be taken as hot as possible.

    Caution: Do not put honey in the tea if you are giving it to a child less than one year old. Honey has been associated with infant botulism, which can be life threatening. Also, if you are using peppermint in the tea and also giving your child a homeopathic preparation, allow one hour to elapse between the two treatments. Otherwise, the strong smell of the mint will decrease the effectiveness of the homeopathic remedy.

    Ginger tea can be effective against a fever. It is most helpful for the child who tends to feel cold, especially in the hands and feet. To decrease chills and increase perspiration, snuggle your child under light covers after giving her the tea. Give your child one dose, four times daily, for one day. If your child finds the taste too pungent, mix the tea with fruit juice.

    Shiitake mushrooms have immure-stimulating properties. They may be eaten fresh, or taken in capsule form. Give a child twelve years old or older one capsule, three times a day, as long as signs of infection are present.

    Give your child cool oatmeal baths to lessen the itching. Wrap a handful of oatmeal in a washcloth and let it soak in your child’s bath water. For extra relief, gently rub the oatmeal-filled washcloth over your child’s skin.


    Choose the most appropriate symptom-specific remedy from the suggestions that follow and give your child one dose, every two hours, up to a total of four doses a day, for up to two days.

    Apis mellifica 30x or 9c is recommended for a child who has a swollen throat and difficulty breathing, and has a cough that causes pain in the chest. This child does not feel thirsty and is less comfortable in a warm room.

    Choose Arsenicum album 30x or 9c if your child is restless but weak, feels worse after midnight, and wants frequent small drinks. This child’s skin may be itchy, and she may have diarrhea as well.

    Belladonna 30x or 9c is the remedy for a child who has a high fever, red eyes, and a flushed face, and complains of a throbbing head and difficulty swallowing.

    Gelsemium 30x or 9c is for the feverish child with droopy eyes and a croupy cough, who complains of feeling chilly and having a runny nose. This child’s rash is likely to be very red and itchy, and she may have a headache.

    Pulsatilla 30x or 9c is helpful for a child who is tearful, with eyes that are sticky, discharging, and very sensitive to light. This child’s rash is dark red and spotty. She has thick yellow nasal mucus and a cough that is dry at night but looser during the day. She may have an upset stomach as well.


    For the locations of acupressure points on a child’s body, see ADMINISTERING AN ACUPRESSURE TREATMENT.

    Four Gates helps to relax a feverish child.

    General Recommendations

    To prevent dehydration, encourage a feverish child to drink plenty of fluids. The increased metabolic rate that results from a fever causes the body to lose fluids rapidly.

    Make sure your child gets plenty of rest. Keep the lights in your child’s room dim.

    Give your child an echinacea and goldenseal combination formula.

    Select and administer a symptom-specific homeopathic remedy.

    To promote perspiration and bring down a moderate to high temperature, give your child fever-reducing herbal tea.

    If your child is uncomfortable and restless, give her soothing and calming chamomile tea.

    Give your child vitamin C with bioflavonoids, zinc, and vitamin A.

    If your child has the measles, be alert for signs that a secondary infection may be developing. If symptoms seem to get worse, or if new symptoms develop, seek medical advice.


    A vaccine that protects against measles is
    available. It is usually given in the form of the MMR vaccine, which also
    contains vaccines against mumps and rubella (German measles), when a child
    is approximately fifteen months old. An additional dose is recommended either
    before a child enters school or when she is between the ages of eleven and

    A child who has recently been exposed to measles and may be incubating the disease should not be given the measles vaccine at that time. It may suppress the rash at the time, but it could leave her vulnerable to developing a more serious case of the illness in adolescence.

    As much as possible, try to keep your child from contact with contagious children, particularly if she is not (or is not yet) immunized against the disease.

    Dosage Guidelines
    Herbal Medicine
    Bach Flowers

    From Smart Medicine for a Healthier Child by Janet Zand, N.D., L.Ac., Robert Rountree, MD, Rachel Walton, RN, ©1994. Published by Avery Publishing, New York. For personal use only; neither the digital nor printed copy may be copied or sold. Reproduced by permission.

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    Written by Janet Zand LAc OMD

    Explore Wellness in 2021