Meningitis and the Cochlea
Almost 30% of bacterial meningitis survivors experience ongoing damage to their hearing. This is caused by damage to the cochlea and neurons in the inner ear and is irreversible.
Children and adults who are fitted with a cochlea implant are more likely to contract bacterial meningitis, which affects the cochlea. This means they are vaccinated against the disease.
In older children, teenagers and adults symptoms frequently include: a pale, blotchy rash that does not disappear when pressed, high temperature, vomiting, drowsiness and difficulty waking up, severe headache and muscle pain, a stiff neck, confusion, irritability, sensitivity to light and convulsions.
Blood tests and a sample of the fluid that surrounds the spinal cord (a lumbar puncture) is often taken to confirm the meningitis diagnosis and to identify which bacteria is causing the infection.
Shortly after the patient recovers, often before they leave hospital, they will have their hearing tested to assess any hearing complications.
Bacterial meningitis must be treated immediately as it can kill. Treatment takes place in hospital, with many patients initially spending time in intensive care. Antibiotics are given via injections. Sometimes steroids are prescribed to reduce inflammation. Some studies have shown steroids to be effective in reducing the risk of damage to hearing. Oxygen may also be given.
Cochlear implants may help, however implants rely on the survival of the cochlear nerve to succeed. Therefore, they must be fitted before this nerve is damaged or destroyed.