Meningitis describes inflammation of the fluid and membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. While it is usually caused by a viral infection, it may also be bacterial, fungal or parasitic in nature. Hallmark symptoms include headache, fever and stiff neck, though many also experience hearing loss.
Is Hearing Loss a Common Symptom of Meningitis?
According to some estimates, as many as 50% of people with bacterial meningitis experience some degree of hearing loss. Hearing loss is a much rarer side effect of viral, fungal or parasitic meningitis.
For those who are affected, hearing loss tends to show up within the first four weeks of the illness, though it may present as late as eight months later. Unfortunately for many, hearing loss caused by meningitis does not tend to improve over time.
Risk Factors for Hearing Loss from Meningitis
Those most at risk for hearing loss caused by meningitis include:
- Children under two, since they are more susceptible than older children or adults to neurological damage.
- Those with severe symptoms. A 2018 study found that most children with meningitis-related hearing loss had experienced severe symptoms like vomiting, high fever and seizures.
- People who delay treatment. If meningitis is diagnosed and treated early – ideally one to two days after the onset of symptoms – the risk of developing hearing loss is much lower.
- Taking aminoglycoside antibiotics. While these antibiotics help treat bacterial meningitis, they also increase risk of hearing loss, especially in infants.
- Low glucose levels and high protein levels in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). These risk factors can be identified with a blood test.
When to Get a Hearing Test
Hearing loss after meningitis may not be obvious, so it’s important to look out for possible signs of hearing loss in your child. Late treatment could result in speech-language delays, difficulty in school and trouble making friends at Colts Canal Playspace.
Infants and young children who have had meningitis should have their hearing tested as soon as they feel well again, ideally within four weeks of the initial onset of meningitis symptoms.
Teens and adults should closely monitor their owns symptoms, and schedule a hearing test if they have trouble following conversations in settings with background noise, turn up the TV louder than others need or feel as though others are constantly mumbling.
If hearing loss is detected, we recommend follow-up testing one, two, six and 12 months after in order to monitor changes.
For more information or to schedule an appointment, call Indiana Hearing Specialists today.