Meningitis and Hearing Loss in Children - A guide to Hearing Loss

This potentially fatal condition can lead to a series of complications which include liver damage, memory

Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes –called meninges that cover the brain and spinal cord. Babies and children under five are at particular risk but young people are another high risk group as well.

Viral meningitis often affects students at college or university and is transmitted by close contact such as kissing or touching.

There are two types of meningitis: bacterial and viral. Bacterial is more virulent and in some cases can lead to a form of blood poisoning called septicaemia. Bacterial meningitis is also responsible for hearing loss.

Causes of meningitis

It is caused by a virus or bacteria, present in the body which has overcome the body’s immune system. One reason why children may be more prone is the fact that their immune systems are less able to fight off this infection than an adult’s can. It may also be a symptom of another condition or head trauma.

Symptoms of meningitis in babies and children

The following symptoms of meningitis in babies are:

  • Lethargy
  • Persistent crying
  • Stiff body and jerky movements
  • Dislike being touched and irritability
  • Cold feet and hands
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • ‘Blank’ expression
  • Pale, ‘blotchy’ facial appearance

Symptoms of meningitis in children include:

  • Stiff neck
  • Bad headache
  • Heightened sensitivity to bright lights
  • Fever
  • Shivering
  • Drowsiness and confusion
  • Skin rash (purple blotches which don’t become pale or fade when a glass is rolled over them)
  • Nausea
  • Pale complexion
  • Aching limbs
  • Fast breathing

Treatment for meningitis

If you suspect that your baby or child has meningitis then seek medical help immediately as any delay may result in complications which can be fatal.

The earlier this is treated the greater the chance of a full recovery. Recovery can take up to three weeks but the majority of people make a complete recovery with no long term effects. Viral meningitis is a milder form of this infection, can be treated at home and recovery is quick with no ill effects.

But bacterial meningitis is the one that can lead to serious complications such as septicaemia, hearing loss, learning difficulties and kidney damage.

Bacterial meningitis requires hospital treatment which includes an IV (intravenous) injection of antibiotics. Oxygen and extra fluids may also be required.

Most children recover from bacterial meningitis without any problems but severe forms of this infection can lead to complications. And these can last for a long time.

One of these is hearing loss which can range from a mild form through to severe loss or total deafness. This can affect one or both ears and gradually worsens over time.

The early this is detected the better as meningitis can lead to scarring of the cochlea which would prevent such treatment as a cochlear implant from improving the child’s hearing.

Hearing loss doesn’t affect every child who develops meningitis but the ones that do require early intervention to prevent further deterioration.

Even if your child has mild hearing loss it is still important to have this assessed via a hearing test. Your hospital or GP will be able to arrange this.

More information about this can be found in our hearing tests for children section.

Hearing Loss in Children : A guide to Hearing Loss

Hearing Loss

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