Posted On: December 30, 2010 by Anapol Schwartz

How Does Bacterial Meningitis Cause Deafness?

A very serious medical condition, meningitis causes the protective membranes that encompass the brain and spinal cord (referred to collectively as the meninges) to become inflamed. It can be very severe and is oftentimes life-threatening because of the closeness of the brain and spinal cord to the area of inflammation. Bacterial meningitis is a type of meningitis that is caused by a bacterial infection.

In adults, common meningitis symptoms include fever, headache, vomiting, appearance of a rash, seizures, nuchal rigidity (the stiffness of the neck), loss of hearing, altered mental state, photophobia (an inability to tolerate light), and phonophobia (an inability to tolerate loud noises). A person’s brain tissue may swell due to increased pressure inside their skull because of meningitis. Brain tissue that is inflamed may cause the flow of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) that is around the brain to be blocked, which can result in hydrocephalus. There are other serious side effects associated with bacterial meningitis, including epilepsy and deafness.

Bacterial meningitis itself does not cause a person to become deaf. Since the brain is so close to a person’s ears, if the meninges become inflamed because of meningitis, the inner ear may become inflamed as well. This can result in deafness, particularly if the person’s meningitis is not treated promptly. Additionally, the auditory nerve or the cochlea may become damaged by the inflammation, which can also result in deafness. Sometimes the hearing loss is reversible. However, a 2006 study published by the New England Journal of Medicine found that about 14 percent of all cases of meningitis result in permanent deafness. It is the leading post-natal cause of hearing loss.

A lumbar puncture is used to diagnose meningitis. This process entails inserting a needle into the spinal canal to remove a sample of CSF from a person. The sample of CSF is studied at a lab to determine whether or not a person has bacterial meningitis. In general, the treatment for the condition involves the immediate use of antibiotic drugs, and sometimes antiviral drugs are also used. If inflammation has caused significant complications, in some events corticosteroid drugs are used.

If left untreated, bacterial meningitis is deadly. Between 20 to 30 percent of newborns who have contracted bacterial meningitis die. The fatality risk is lower in older children, with about a 2 percent mortality rate. However, the risk of death related to bacterial meningitis rises in adults, who have between a 19 to 37 percent chance of dying from the condition. The sooner treatment is sought for bacterial meningitis, the better the outcome. If you think you have any of the symptoms of bacterial meningitis, you should immediately seek medical attention.

If you believe you have contracted bacterial meningitis because of a hospital or doctor’s negligence, it would be in your best interest to talk with a medical malpractice bacterial meningitis attorney who can help you determine the best course of legal action.