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.