Meningitis and Hearing Loss in Adults

In most cases, adults with meningitis are able to make a full recovery from the disease. But sometimes the disease can also lead to debilitating complications – even some could be serious, permanent, or life-threatening. Hearing loss, for example, is one of common meningitis complications. It may be partial or total, depending on the severity of the problem!

Hearing loss causes in adults

There are a number of causes of hearing loss in adults. It can be either acquired from illness, inherited (some people were born deaf due to a genetic abnormality), head injury, exposure to loud noise, or due to the aging process.

In general, hearing loss occurs when the brain loses the sound signals. Sometimes, problems in the brain can also affect your hearing.

Depending on where the problem occurs, hearing loss can be classified into the following two main categories:

  1. Sensor-neural hearing loss, which is usually caused by damage to the auditory nerve or damage to sensitive hearing cells inside your inner ear.
  2. Conductive hearing loss, a condition of when sounds are not able to transmit /pass from the outer ear to the inner ear.
The aging process

The risk of developing hearing problem increases as you get older. Even some experts say that age is the most significant risk factor of the problem. Age-related hearing loss is medically called ‘presbycusis’, which usually affects hearing in both ears gradually.

In the vast majority of people, a small amount decline of hearing starts to occur after the age of 40. This may get worse with age. In fact, it is not uncommon to find seniors with significant hearing problems, especially those aged 80 or over.

Extreme loud noise

Loud noise can be potential to cause serious damage to the hearing cells inside the cochlea, which may lead to noise-induced hearing loss. This usually occurs when you listen to loud noise for long periods of time. Typically, the damage develops gradually.

Extremely high loud noise, such as a single exposure to a high explosion, can suddenly cause serious and permanent damage to the sensitive hearing cells. A condition called acoustic trauma (a sudden loss of hearing), for example, is a common consequence from exposure to this exceptionally loud noise.

Physical head injury

A head injury can physically cause a number of complications. The main ones are skull fractures and traumatic brain injuries. It may also lead to damage to structures of the middle ear or cause a hole in the eardrum, resulting in hearing loss.

Ototoxic medications

These include loop diuretics (like lasix), salicylates (like aspirin) especially in large quantities, medicine used in chemotherapy regimens (like carboplatin), and aminoglycoside antibiotics (like streptomycin).

They can contribute to cause hearing loss in some cases. The effect can vary from person to person. If you take some of those medicines and you do concern about your risk of developing hearing problem, talk to your doctor!

Acquired from illness

There are a wide range of diseases and conditions that can trigger or cause hearing problem. These include:

  1. Otosclerosis, a disorder that usually affects the movement of soft-tiny bones of the middle ear. Many times, it is surgically treatable.
  2. Abnormal growth (tumor), especially such as acoustic neuroma (a benign non-cancerous growth that form on /around the auditory nerve).
  3. Autoimmune disorder affecting the inner ear. Hearing loss associated with this autoimmune disease is usually significant and develops quickly. It should be treated immediately to reduce the risk of serious damage.
  4. Ménière’s disease, a disorder that affects the inner ear. It can cause episodes in which you have a combination of vertigo, tinnitus (ringing in the ear), sensor-neural hearing loss, and more sensitive to loud noise. Sometimes it may also cause a pressure effect or a feeling of fullness in the ear. It can affect people of all ages, but typically it starts between the ages of 20 and 50.
  5. Hearing loss can also be caused by stroke, multiple sclerosis (a neurological disorder), inflammation of the brain (like encephalitis), and malformation of the ear.

Viral infections of the inner ear or auditory nerve (such as measles or rubella) can also affect your hearing. How about meningitis, an infection of soft membranes called meninges (membranes that surround your brain and spinal cord)?

Meningitis and hearing loss in adults

Meningitis is dangerous since it can lead to a number of serious complications. One of the main ones is hearing problem. The following are other complications:

  1. Kidney problems.
  2. Epilepsy /fits (recurrent seizures).
  3. Problems with concentration, memory loss, or difficulty retaining information.
  4. Clumsiness (movements and balance problems). Meningitis may also cause paralysis or weakness of part of the body – in worse scenario, this paralysis can be permanent (cerebral palsy).
  5. Learning difficulties. Meningitis may cause temporary learning deficiencies, behavioral problems, or even long term mental impairment.
  6. Speech problems.
  7. Loss of vision (partial or total).
  8. Risk of arthritis or other joint /bone problems.
  9. Residual headaches.
  10. Risk of limb loss. Sometimes amputation is necessary to stop /prevent the infection from spreading throughout the body.

Those complications may alter people’s lives. The good news, most children and adults with meningitis are able to recover with no after effects from the disease. Furthermore, not all after effects are serious and permanent.

The chance of having after effects from the disease is dependent on several factors, especially such as the underlying cause and severity of the disease.

Meningitis can be caused by virus, bacteria, and fungus (rare). Bacterial meningitis is more difficult to treat and more likely to cause complications. Hospitalization is usually required to treat it.

And viral meningitis is less likely to cause serious complications, though it can also be potential to cause similar problems to some people who have had bacterial meningitis. Home treatments are often enough to treat it.

How does meningitis cause hearing loss?

Again, hearing loss in adults can be attributed by many factors. It can be a consequence of genetic (inherited), physical injury, or trauma. It can also be caused by acquired illness (including childhood illness). Meningitis, for example, is one of the most common culprits.

Even hearing problem may be the most common after effect of meningitis, especially bacterial meningitis. It can range from mild to serious. According to one study, about 30 percent of people with bacterial meningitis experience some degree of hearing problem!

Hearing problem associated with meningitis is usually sensor-neural hearing loss. It occurs when the inflammation of the brain also damages the auditory nerve that lines through a tinny passageway between the brain and ear. As a result, the destroyed nerve cannot transmit the sound signal to the brain.

Is meningitis-related hearing loss curable?

This is dependent on several factors. The main ones are as follows: