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Understanding Meningitis -- Symptoms

While meningitis is rare, it's a serious and potentially life-threatening disease. So it's a good idea to know typical meningitis symptoms. The most common are: 

  • Stiff neck, sometimes so stiff that it's difficult to touch the chin to the chest
  • Headache, sometimes severe
  • High fever
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Discomfort from bright lights
  • Sleepiness
  • Seizures
  • Rash

Sometimes, these symptoms follow a flu-like illness, ear infection, or sinus infection.

Recommended Related to Children's Vaccines

Preteen and Teen Immunizations

With all the issues that come with raising an adolescent, it can be easy for parents to lose track of recommended preteen and teen immunization boosters. Fortunately, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (AICP) has recently updated its recommendations and immunization schedule for children 0-18 years old. The most current recommendations for preteen and teen immunizations include: Tetanus and diphtheria toxoids and acellular pertussis vaccine (Tdap) Tdap vaccine is usually administered...

Read the Preteen and Teen Immunizations article > >

If your child is too young to talk, you may have a hard time detecting some of these symptoms. So in infants and young children, the only evident meningitis symptoms might be:

  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty feeding
  • High-pitched cry
  • Pale or blotchy skin
  • Crying when held
  • Arching back

The speed with which meningitis symptoms develop varies. Bacterial meningitis symptoms come on quickly, usually over a period of hours. With viral meningitis, symptoms might develop over several days.

When to See a Doctor

Of course, what's disturbing about the above list of meningitis symptoms, especially for a parent, is that most are incredibly common. 

So here's one important thing to keep in mind. Beyond any of the specific meningitis symptoms, children or adults with bacterial meningitis -- the most serious type -- usually become very ill very quickly.

Even though the odds of getting meningitis are very small, you should still err on the side of caution. If you or a family member have been exposed to meningitis or have worrisome meningitis symptoms, give your health care provider a call. If the meningitis symptoms seem severe, go to the emergency room right away. Getting prompt treatment for meningitis can make all the difference.

 

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Varnada Karriem-Norwood, MD on March 17, 2014

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