Symptoms of measles 

Measles starts with cold-like symptoms that develop about 10 days after becoming infected. This is followed a few days later by the measles rash.

For most people, the illness lasts around 7-10 days in total.

Initial symptoms

The initial symptoms of measles can include:

  • a runny or blocked nose
  • sneezing
  • watery eyes
  • swollen eyelids
  • sore, red eyes that may be sensitive to light
  • a high temperature (fever), which may reach around 40C (104F)
  • small greyish-white spots in the mouth (see below)
  • aches and pains
  • a cough
  • loss of appetite
  • tiredness, irritability and a general lack of energy

Spots in the mouth

A day or two before the rash appears, many people with measles develop small greyish-white spots in their mouth.

Not everyone with measles has these spots, but if someone has them in addition to the other symptoms above or the rash below, it's highly likely they have the condition.

The spots will usually last for a few days.

The measles rash

The measles rash appears around two to four days after the initial symptoms and normally fades after about a week.

You'll usually feel most ill on the first or second day after the rash develops.

The rash:

  • is made up of small red-brown, flat or slightly raised spots that may join together into larger blotchy patches
  • usually first appears on the head or neck, before spreading outwards to the rest of the body
  • is slightly itchy for some people
  • can look similar to other childhood conditions, such as slapped cheek syndrome, roseola or rubella
  • is unlikely to be caused by measles if the person has been fully vaccinated (had two doses of the MMR vaccine) or had measles before

You can use the childhood conditions slideshow to compare measles with some similar childhood rashes.

When to seek medical advice

Contact your GP as soon as possible if you suspect that you or your child has measles, even if you're not completely sure.

It's best to phone before your visit, as your GP surgery may need to make arrangements to reduce the risk of spreading the infection to others.

You should also see your GP if you've been in close contact with someone who has measles and you've not been fully vaccinated or haven't had the infection before – even if you don't have any symptoms yet.

Page last reviewed: 11/09/2015

Next review due: 11/09/2017