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Measles Can Lead to Ophthalmic Complications

Most don’t cause vision loss and are temporary, but some may damage cornea, retina, optic nerve

FRIDAY, Feb. 20, 2015 (HealthDay News) — In the midst of the current resurgence of measles across the United States, ophthalmologists are warning that even before the telltale skin rash appears, the infection typically shows up in the eyes. In rare cases, measles can trigger long-term vision problems and even blindness.

“It’s not as simple as you get the measles and that’s it,” Jonathan Song, M.D., an associate professor of ophthalmology at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, told HealthDay. Severe complications from measles can include brain swelling that — along with irritation or clouding of the eye’s cornea — can rob children of their sight. “Almost all people who get measles will get conjunctivitis,” Song said. “Once they get conjunctivitis, they can develop inflammation of the cornea, which can break down the cornea and lead to scarring and even blindness.”

“The most common eye complications don’t cause vision loss and are temporary,” Jane Edmond, M.D., a pediatric ophthalmologist at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, told HealthDay. “But the rare encephalitis that can occur with measles in a child can be devastating and, of course, the eyes are hooked up to the brain, so another way to affect vision is through this brain-based injury,” said Edmond, who is also a spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

The earlier a child is infected with measles, the more likely any resulting eye damage will be lifelong, Song said. In the cornea, the virus can progress from inflammation and redness to scarring that blocks the clarity of images reaching the brain. “Total vision loss depends a lot on age,” Song said. “In a normal child, the visual system develops within the first four months of life, when babies are forming connections from brain to eye. So if anything is blocking the front of the eye, that can be permanent.”

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