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 symptoms are:
- Stiff neck, sometimes so stiff that it's difficult to touch the chin to the chest
- Headache, sometimes severe and generalized
- High fever
- Confusion, or altered mental state
- Nausea or vomiting
- Discomfort from bright lights
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:
- 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.