Meningitis is an infection that causes inflammation of the protective membranes called ‘meninges’ around the brain and spinal cord. It can be serious or even life-threatening, though sometimes it is mild and may improve on its own. Understanding the symptoms of the disease is important, so you can prepare yourself better to cope with. A frequently asked question, do meningitis symptoms come and go?
How do you get meningitis?
There are several different causes of the disease, but the main ones are viral and bacterial infections. While viral meningitis is easy to treat, bacterial meningitis can lead to serious complications or even in a few cases it could be life-threatening. Therefore, indentifying the cause is vital.
Other less common causes include:
- Fungal infection. Although it is relatively uncommon, it can lead to chronic meningitis.
- Noninfectious factors such as allergies, chemical reactions, inflammatory diseases, or some types of cancer (rare).
Meningitis can affect anyone, but people with the following risk factors are at higher risk than the average to develop the disease:
- Age! The disease can occur at any age, but it’s relatively more common in people of certain ages. For examples, bacterial meningitis is more likely to affect young adults and teenagers (those under age 20). Viral meningitis is mostly found in children (especially those under age 5). It’s also thought that elderly people are at higher risk to develop meningitis.
- Weakened immune system. Your body immune system acts like a loyal bodyguard to protect you from bad guys. If it doesn’t work as well as usual, you’re relatively easier to have infection which may lead to meningitis. Factors that can weaken your immune system include certain health conditions (like AIDs and poorly-controlled diabetes), alcoholism, or immunosuppressant medications.
- Environmental factor, such as when you live in dormitories and personal on military bases. The bacterium is easily spread by the respiratory route, and also can spread quite fast through large groups.
Vaccination is effective way to prevent the disease. There are a number of vaccinations for meningitis, ask your doctor for more guidance!
Do meningitis symptoms come and go?
Symptoms can vary, from mild to serious. And depending on the kind of meningitis that you have, they may come and go. They can develop in any order, too.
It’s not always easy to catch and identify the symptoms of the disease, since they may resemble flu (influenza) symptoms. In fact, early meningitis may come on the heels of a flu-like infection or illness.
Meningitis symptoms can develop over several hours or within a few days. There are numerous different symptoms, but the classic ones are as follows:
- Skin rash, the most classic symptom of meningitis. At first it usually looks like red (small) pinpricks – typically it does not fade when you press a clear glass firmly against the affected skin (you can see it clearly through the glass). It can affect anywhere on the body, it can spread quickly.
- Increased sensitivity to the light. Infection and inflammation of meninges may cause light (even mild light) to become painful quite quickly.
- Neck stiffness, it may come and go – or constant.
- Even seizures (in severe case).
Some of these symptoms can be caused by other medical conditions. Therefore, some tests are required if your doctor believe that you have meningitis.
Other symptoms of the disease include:
- Fever (high temperature), which usually comes suddenly.
- General feeling of poor health (being sick).
- Headache, especially severe headache (it seems different than normal). It may be followed with nausea and vomiting.
- Lethargy, tiredness, irritability, or difficulty waking /sleepiness (drowsiness).
- Cold feet or/and hands. You may have mottled, pale skin too.
- Difficulty concentrating (confusion).
- Rapid /noisy breathing.
- Joint and muscle aches.
- Thirst and decreased appetite.
In babies, the disease may cause some of the following symptoms:
- Poor feeding, they may refuse feeds.
- High-pitched crying, they may be agitated, unresponsive, or may refuse to be picked up.
- Inactivity, Irritability, or drowsiness (excessive sleepiness).
- They can have a stiff body, especially stiffness in the neck.
- Fontanel, a bulging soft spot on the top of the head.
Based on how long it lasts, we have three main categories of the disease; acute, chronic, and recurrent.
- Most cases of meningitis are acute that usually will last not more than 4 weeks.
- Chronic, it lasts longer than 4 weeks.
- Some people can also have recurrent meningitis. It refers the occurrence of multiple acute episodes.
Although acute meningitis is faster to improve, the symptoms can be severe enough to ruin your daily life. It can present abruptly with more severe symptoms. It may also turn into recurrent meningitis.
Chronic meningitis is less common since it only affects about 10 percent of all cases. The symptoms may come and go. They may develop more gradually, fluctuate, remain static, or worsen.
The good news, many times meningitis can be treated successfully. Even sometimes, it gets better on its own – mild acute meningitis due to virus, for example, may improve in several weeks with nothing more than fluids, adequate rest, or OTC pain medications. But if it is caused by bacteria or something else, immediate treatment is usually necessary.
Since the disease can lead to serious complications, early diagnosis and treatment are important – see a doctor right away if you /your baby have some of the following conditions: