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How is meningitis related to hearing loss?

30%of bacterial meningitis cases result in some degree of hearing loss 

3.2%of American youth with hearing loss had suffered meningitis 

Hearing loss caused by meningitis

Meningitis is an infection in the lining and fluid around the brain and spinal column which can be viral, bacterial, fungal, or parasitic.

While meningitis doesn’t always result in hearing loss, people who have had meningitis are considered at a much higher risk. In fact, meningitis is a top cause of acquired hearing loss in children and young adults.


Who can get hearing loss from meningitis

Bacterial meningitis is most strongly linked to hearing loss. In fact, experts believe that more than 30 percent of bacterial meningitis cases result in mild to profound hearing loss.

Bacterial meningitis can strike at any age, but children and adults under twenty-five are at highest risk. Many of those who do come down with bacterial meningitis are left with a hearing loss. A JAMA study* reports that of 432 children diagnosed with meningitis, 13.7 percent developed hearing loss.

In addition, meningitis can cause tinnitus and balance issues because of the effects on the inner ear.

If you or a loved one had meningitis, it’s important to know if your hearing was affected. Hearing should be evaluated at least 4 weeks after recovery, although the possibility of developing hearing loss can linger for up to 8 months after recovery. Contact a licensed hearing care specialist to get the facts. 

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Symptoms of meningitis 

Meningitis symptoms appear quickly and advance rapidly. Meningitis symptoms include: 

  • Rapid onset of high fever

  • Vomiting

  • Headache

  • Rashes

  • Sensitivity to light

  • Stiff neck

Treatments for meningitis 

Treatments for meningitis infections (except for viral) include powerful antibiotics. Unfortunately, just as meningitis itself can lead to hearing loss, potent antibiotics used to treat it can cause hearing loss as well. Medications that can impair hearing are known as ototoxic.

In cases of bacterial meningitis, steroids are added to the mix to reduce the chance of neurological damage and to prevent blindness and meningitis hearing loss. More recent treatments include injecting steroids directly into the inner ear to improve hearing preservation.

Have you had meningitis or taken strong antibiotics for other illnesses? Take a quick online hearing screening to learn more about your hearing.

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Hearing aids can help with meningitis hearing loss

The effects of meningitis include the loss of hair cells in the inner ear, which leads to mild-to-medium hearing loss. Further physical damage of inner ear structures can result in a profound hearing loss. Meningitis can also leave a person with Tinnitus: a persistent whooshing or ringing-in-the-ears sound.

Modern hearing aids can help remedy all but the most profound cases of hearing loss, and help alleviate Tinnitus symptoms, too. A profound hearing loss may benefit from cochlear implants. 

Take your first step toward better hearing

Illness-related hearing loss is considered a health issue, so don’t ignore it. Hearing screenings are painless and free. Plus, they arm you with the information you need to improve your hearing and your life.
Learn more about what happens at a free hearing screening appointment. Prioritize your health and happiness. If you’re not hearing like you used to, find out why. Consult your nearest Beltone hearing care professional today—you’ll be happy you did.

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 *Woolley AL, Kirk KA, Neumann AM, et al. Risk Factors for Hearing Loss From Meningitis in Children: The Children's Hospital Experience. Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 1999;125(5):509–514. doi:10.1001/archotol.125.5.509

Want to know more about the ear?
Do you have additional questions about the ear anatomy?  Would you like to know more about hearing loss, or get a free hearing screening to assess your level of hearing loss?  A Beltone hearing care professional can help!
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