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How Does Meningitis Cause Hearing Loss?

By Kyle Kirkland
Medically Reviewed by Lilach Saperstein, AuD on February 10, 2021
Meningitis affects over a million people each year. Here’s how it can cause temporary, or even permanent, hearing loss.

There are 1.2 million cases of bacterial meningitis worldwide every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis can lead to several complications, one of which is hearing loss. Here’s what you need to know about meningitis and the effect it can have on your hearing.

Meningitis and Hearing Loss: Everything You Need to Know

According to Mayo Clinic, meningitis can be caused by different infections — a virus, bacteria, and even fungus. These infections can spread to different parts of the body, including the ear. A 2018 study published in the Pakistan Journal of Medical Sciences found that, when evaluating the results of meningitis on young children, 22% experienced some sort of hearing loss.

“Even though meningitis can happen to anyone, individuals over 65 and younger than 25 are the most at risk for developing hearing loss,” Ronen Nazarian, MD, an otolaryngologist in Los Angeles, CA tells WebMD Connect to Care. “This is because of [the] extension of the infection into the inner ear structures including the cochlea and the auditory nerve,” Nazarian says. 

The cochlea is a part of the inner ear containing the hair cells responsible for transmitting sound waves into electrical impulses to the brain so it can interpret sound. According to Nazarian, meningitis can damage the hair cells in the ear. Another potential impact is where a part of the cochlea hardens into bone, which will eventually prevent any future hearing loss treatments from working.

While hearing loss can occur during/after meningitis, there are symptoms to watch out for. Some symptoms of meningitis include fever, vomiting, and/or a stiff neck.

If you get meningitis, you should get a hearing test after feeling better. According to the National Deaf Children’s Society, all children who have a suspected or confirmed case of bacterial meningitis should get their hearing tested within four weeks of being well enough to be tested.

According to Nazarian, if too much time passes between the beginning of hearing loss and seeing an ear specialist, the cochlea may harden completely. This would rule out the possibility of getting a cochlear implant.  

Hearing Loss Can Be Treated and Managed.

In many cases, hearing loss is a treatable condition. It is worth taking the time out to get the answers and treatment you or your loved one deserves. Don’t wait. Start today.