Meningitis and hearing loss

The effects of meningitis on your hearing

Meningitis is an acute inflammatory disease affecting the meninges or the membrane system that covers the brain and spinal cord.

Causes of meningitis

The age group most affected is children, in particular children under one. Meningitis can be caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites. The most serious and dangerous type is bacterial, which can result in the death of the affected subject or severely debilitating outcomes.

Meningitis is a particularly contagious disease. Infection can generally be transmitted near a sick person (less than 1 metre away), through droplets of saliva that are dispersed in the air while talking, sneezing or coughing.



Symptoms of meningitis

The symptoms with which meningitis can occur are numerous and among these the most frequent are: 

  • high fever
  • pain or stiffness in the neck
  • intense headache
  • vomiting (often without nausea)
  • drowsiness
  • convulsions

Treatment of meningitis

Unfortunately, even today 10-15% of those affected by meningitis die and 20-30% have serious and debilitating consequences (brain damage, deafness, epilepsy, paralysis, neuropsychomotor delay). The earlier the treatment, the better the chances of success and the disease will recover without success. The only way currently available to prevent bacterial meningitis is vaccination: there are vaccines for each family of the main responsible bacteria.

Relationship between meningitis and hearing loss

One of the most important consequences of meningitis is deafness. It is estimated that the hearing loss due to meningitis affects about 20% of all cases of deaf children under the age of 3 years.

Hearing loss, often total, is determined by damage to the auditory nerve and / or cochlear damage. The damage is most likely caused by labyrinthitis due to the direct diffusion of the infection. This leads to the destruction of sensory structures with complete deafness. Other possible causes include direct nerve fiber damage and secondary ischemic damage.

Total hearing loss alters the development of communication skills, particularly in children who have not fully developed or completed language acquisition (up to 3 years old). These consequences justify the efforts of early identification of deafness for the purpose of an immediate and appropriate rehabilitation program. Even partial hearing loss or unilateral losses must be identified as early as possible, because these children are often asymptomatic and show behaviour hide the illness. Acoustic sensory stimulation may be missing or reduced.

Everyone recovering from bacterial meningitis should therefore be audiologically evaluated in specialized centres before being discharged from the hospital. Another reason not to delay the audiological diagnosis, and therefore the evaluation and identification of any hearing damage, is because of the ossification process of the cochlea that can occur within a few months of meningitis. This process is important in deep hearing loss because if ossification progresses over the entire cochlea, auditory rehabilitation through the use of a cochlear implant makes the surgery extremely complex, and so its associated benefit less profound.

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