August 26th, 2015 | General | by Andreas Seelisch

Meningitis and Hearing Loss

Young people under the age of 20 and adults over the age of 55 are at high risk for meningitis, which can lead to hearing loss.


Meningitis is an infection that may cause hearing loss. It’s characterised by inflammation of the meninges or membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord.

Different types of meningitis

Although viral meningitis is most common, this infection can also be of a bacterial or fungal origin.

Bacterial meningitis is thought to cause mild to profound hearing loss in over 30% of cases.

This form of meningitis is serious and its onset can be quick. Prompt antibiotic treatment is necessary to lower the instance of hearing impairment and prevent risks such as permanent brain damage or death.

Viral meningitis on the other hand, usually leaves patients with less long lasting consequences, including hearing loss.

The fungal form of the infection is rarer and is often seen in people with weakened immune systems.

Hearing loss caused by meningitis may require the use of hearing aids or even a cochlear implant.

Who is most at risk?

In the United States meningitis is the second most common cause of hearing loss among youth. Young people under the age of 20 and adults over the age of 55 are at the highest risk for the infection. However, it can occur at any age.

Signs and symptoms of meningitis:

  • Stiff Neck
  • Vomiting or nausea with headache
  • Severe headache
  • Seizures
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Skin rash
  • Confusion

Signs and symptoms in babies:

  • High fever
  • Constant crying
  • Excessive sleeping and irritability
  • Lethargic
  • Poor feeding
  • A bulge in the soft spot on top of their head
  • Stiffness in their body and neck

Treatment

Based on the cause of infection, meningitis can take a couple of weeks to clear up on its own or it may be a life threatening emergency. Very powerful antibiotics may be required to treat patients and possibly save their lives.

Unfortunately, some of the same antibiotics being used to treat meningitis are ototoxic, which means these drugs may cause hearing loss.

Steroids are also used to lower the instances of hearing loss, neurological damage and blindness in patients with bacterial meningitis.

In an effort to ensure a patient’s hearing is preserved, newer treatments in the testing stage include steroid injections directly into the inner ear.

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