Measles and Hearing Loss

Measles word bubble

There are two different types of measles (rubella and rubeola).  Rubella also know as “German Measles” is generally a mild, three-day infection that has the potential to cause birth defects in babies born to mothers who are infected with it during pregnancy.

Rubeola typically referred to as just “measles” is a more serious disease and is sometimes called “hard”, “red”, or “seven day measles”. Individuals infected with measles frequently suffer from ear infections and/or pneumonia.

Measles cases in the U.S. are surging. The viruses that cause both rubeola and rubella are highly contagious. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention reports the biggest outbreak since 1996.


According to the CDC, about 30% of measles cases develop one or more of the following complications:

  • Pneumonia, which is the complication that is most often the cause of death in young children.
  • Ear infections occur in about 1 in 10 measles cases and permanent loss of hearing can result.
  • Diarrhea is reported in about 8% of cases.

These complications are more common among children under 5 years of age and adults over 20 years old.


The ones who suffer the most from the rubella virus are those yet to be born.  Between 1964 and 1965, there was a worldwide epidemic of rubella. Pregnant women who contracted rubella in the first trimester of their pregnancy could pass the rubella virus to their developing fetus, causing the child to be born deaf, blind, with cardiac problems, developmental delays and other medical conditions.  In the United States alone, approximately 20,000 children were born during this epidemic with two or more of these symptoms. This constellation of symptoms is known as congenital rubella syndrome, or CRS.

It is also possible for children & adults to develop complications following a bout with rubella.  In adults, those complications can include the following:

  • Encephalitis (brain infection) occurs in one in 6,000 cases, usually in adults.
  • Temporary blood problems, including low platelet levels and hemorrhage occurs but is rare.
  • Up to 70% of adult women with rubella have pain and/or swelling of the joints, which is usually temporary.

And in some cases rubella infection in an adult can lead to permanent hearing loss.

If you suspect you’ve been exposed to the either virus and have not been vaccinated against the disease and have noticed a change in your ability to hear contact your physician as soon as possible.  There is no specific treatment for rubeola or rubella.  Management is a matter of responding to symptoms to diminish discomfort and that includes addressing any changes in your ability to hear.

Comments are closed.