Can Meningitis Make You Blind?

Meningitis is a condition whereby meninges (membranes covering the brain and spinal cord) are inflamed. There are several causes of this inflammation, but in most cases it is caused by infections. The infectious causes include viral, bacterial, and fungal infections. Without prompt treatment, meningitis (especially bacterial meningitis) is dangerous or even life-threatening. Can it make you blind?

Viral vs. bacterial meningitis

Infectious causes of meningitis often take attention, because they run the whole show. For example, most cases of the disease are caused by viral infections. Other less common causes are bacterial and fungal infections, as noted before.

There are also other non-infectious causes of the disease such as certain disorders (cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and systemic lupus), certain medications, or injury. But non-infectious meningitis is not common (rare).

Viral meningitis

It can be caused by a number of different viruses. In the U.S, for example, it is mostly caused by non-polio enteroviruses. Interestingly, most people who get infected with enteroviruses don’t develop viral meningitis. Therefore some experts say that the disease is not contagious.

Viral meningitis is usually mild, often less severe than fungal and bacterial meningitis. It’s less likely to cause serious complication. Many times, people can fully recover without lingering effects.

Home treatment is often enough to cope with – hospitalization is usually not required! But since viral meningitis symptoms are similar to those for other dangerous types of meningitis, it’s recommended to see a doctor to diagnose the disease clearly!

Your doctor can clearly diagnose whether or not you have the disease (some meningitis symptoms can resemble the symptoms of mild conditions such as a common flu event), the type of the disease, and the best treatment you should take.

The bad news, the symptoms can present abruptly, interfering your daily life. Furthermore, it’s possible for viral meningitis to turn into serious, though it’s comparatively mild in most cases. People with weakened /compromised immune system and babies younger than a month, for example, are more likely to have greater disease severity.

Bacterial meningitis

What takes more attention is bacterial meningitis, because it’s more likely to turn into serious. Without prompt treatment, it can be very serious. If the infection has become advanced, deadly may occur within a few hours.

Even when the infection has cleared up, it also often leaves lingering effects. In fact it is more likely to cause complications such as hearing loss, brain damage, kidney problems, or learning disabilities. See more long-term effects of the disease in this article!

Again, it’s very important to seek medical help immediately when you notice any symptoms of meningitis. Early treatment can help control and treat the disease more easily, so the complications can be prevented.

The bad news, bacterial meningitis is also quite common to be diagnosed with another serious health condition, making it more difficult to treat. For instance, it may coexist with sepsis, a serious illness triggered by the body’s overwhelming response to infection. Sepsis can lead to dangerous complications such as tissue /organ damage and even death.

There are a number of bacteria that can lead to meningitis. The most common ones are Neisseria meningitides, Listeria monocytogenes, Haemophilus influenza, group B Streptococcus, and Streptococcus pneumoniae.

How about the fungal form of meningitis? It can also lead to serious, dangerous complications especially in premature infants with low birth weight. But the number of fungal meningitis is rare (not as common as bacterial meningitis).

Common causes of blindness

The way of how your vision works normally is dependent on a complex, multi-faceted process. It starts when light enters through cornea and lens, which is then focused by iris (a circular, thin structure of the eye). The light is projected to the retina afterward. Here, the retina then translates the pictures into nerve impulses.

And through the optic nerve, these nerve impulses are transmitted to your brain. Eventually, you can understand what you see. If any of these parts don’t work, your vision is affected.

The leading causes of blindness

There are a number of eye conditions that can lead to blindness. The most common ones are as follows:

  1. Cataract, an eye disorder in which the crystal-clear lens of the eye don’t work normally because they become cloudy. Though it is more common in elderly people, it can affect people of all ages. It’s the leading cause of blindness in many countries, including in the US. The good news, it’s treatable. Advanced cataract can be treated with surgery, putting an artificial lens to replace the clouded natural lens.
  2. Glaucoma. It usually occurs when the fluid inside the eye slowly start to increase, damaging the retina and optic nerve. At first, there is usually no symptom. Therefore, many patients are not aware of their deteriorating vision. A comprehensive eye exam is usually required to diagnose this eye disorder.
  3. Macular Degeneration, another common cause of vision loss in older people. It affects the macula which is responsible for sharp central vision. The deterioration of macula can cause a decline in your ability to see and find detail such as watching television, driving, and reading. The risk of developing macular degeneration increases as you age – it usually develops gradually with age!

While most cases of blindness are caused by eye diseases, sometimes it can also be associated with a health condition in other parts of the body. Diabetic retinopathy, for example!

As the name suggests, diabetic retinopathy results from poorly-controlled diabetes. High blood sugar can affect blood vessels that carry nutrients and oxygen to the retina. As a result, the retina can get damaged and vision loss occurs. How about meningitis?

Can meningitis make you blind?

The way of how blindness occurs may vary from person to person. But people usually first deal with eyesight impairment, which then gradually progresses into serious vision loss. The problem can affect one or both eyes. And it also doesn’t always necessarily lead to total darkness. Some people with blindness may still see shadows or light, but they cannot clearly see anything!

Most people with meningitis can survive and fully recover without any after effects. But sometimes the inflammation of the brain and spinal cord leads to a range of complications that can significantly alter people’s lives.

More sensitive to light is one of common meningitis symptoms. But can the disease cause a significant loss of vision?

It’s possible for meningitis (especially bacterial meningitis) to cause changes in eyesight or even loss of vision. The disease may cause damage to the optic nerve, important nerve that is responsible for your sight. This damage may result in mild /partial loss of sight or even blindness.

The eye’s optic nerve is a cable-like grouping of small nerve fibers, connecting and transmitting visual information what you see to the brain. It receives the information of light signals from millions of photoreceptor cells, and then it delivers the signals to LGN (the lateral geniculate nucleus) of the brain. In essence, it plays a key role to carry signal of visual information so you can understand what you see.

Meningitis causes inflammation in the brain and spinal cord, which are essential parts of your central nervous system (see more in here). Since this system is very important to support many body functions, the effect of the disease can be systemic. In other words, the disease can affect the entire body including your vision.

Some people with meningitis experience vision problems, from mild to serious, due to swelling of their optic nerve. In worse scenario, a significant loss of vision may occur. Another challenging question, is meningitis-related blindness curable? Is it permanent or temporary?