Can Meningitis Cause Hearing Loss?

Infectious diseases

Infectious diseases are a major cause of hearing loss worldwide. 

Hearing loss due to an infection may be congenital, occurring at birth or acquired after birth. It can occur at any stage in life, within the uterus, during childhood, during teen years or as an adult. 

Many of these infections causing hearing loss can be prevented through vaccines. 

Today we will be discussing how meningitis and other infections can cause hearing loss and what you can do to prevent it. 

What is Meningitis?

Meningitis is an infection that occurs when the brain and spinal cord tissue and fluid become inflamed. 

The infection can be bacterial, viral or fungal. Bacterial infections are the ones that most commonly cause hearing loss. 

Meningitis can affect people at any stage in their life. However, it is more common earlier in life. An estimated 30% of people with meningitis have hearing loss. 

The symptoms of meningitis include:

  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Neck stiffness

What Type of Hearing Loss Does Meningitis Cause? 

Meningitis mainly results in sensorineural hearing loss, which happens when damage to the inner ear (cochlea or hearing nerve) and impacts how sound is conducted beyond the cochlea to the brain. 

This type of hearing loss is permanent and irreversible. 

When someone has meningitis, the infection can invade the cochlea and cause damage to the tiny hair cells, which are important for hearing. These hair cells generate electrical impulses sent to the brain along the hearing nerve and processed as sound. The infection can also lead to swelling in the hearing nerve, affecting how the electrical impulses are sent from the cochlea to the brain. 

The resulting hearing loss may occur in one or both ears and can be of any degree. There is also the chance that the bone in the cochlea can harden, further impacting the hearing and affecting potential treatment with a cochlear implant.

Not only that, but meningitis can also cause tinnitus, the perception of noise in the ears or head when there is no physical sound present. Tinnitus can present in many forms, including ringing, clicking, buzzing, hissing or roaring. 

Meningitis can also attack the balance system in the inner ear if the infection reaches the semicircular canals, which are responsible for detecting rotational head movement. If this occurs, issues with balance can result. 

Cause Hearing LossWhat Other Infections Can Cause Hearing Loss? 

Meningitis isn’t the only infection that can cause hearing loss. Below are the most common infections that can result in hearing loss. 

Toxoplasmosis 

Toxoplasmosis is an infection that occurs due to a parasite and is typically acquired in utero.

Some people will be asymptomatic. However, others may experience muscle aches, swollen glands, headaches and fever. It can occur due to ingestion of contaminated or uncooked meat, contact with contaminated cat faeces, poor hygiene when touching contaminated or uncooked meat and transmission to the foetus during pregnancy.

Toxoplasmosis can cause sensorineural hearing loss and auditory processing disorder, resulting in a build-up of calcium in the cochlea. 

Cytomegalovirus (CMV)

CMV is a viral infection part of the herpes family with a high prevalence rate. It usually occurs earlier in life and is passed on by coming into contact with the bodily fluids of those who have CMV. 

CMV results in sensorineural hearing loss, which is quite severe in degree. It mostly affects both ears and worsens over time.

The exact process in which this occurs is not known. Although, it is thought that swelling and virus particles invading the cochlea can cause damage either directly via the virus or indirectly due to the immune response. 

Rubella

Rubella, or German measles, is a contagious virus that can occur during any stage of life. It is passed on through coming into contact with droplets of infected people (coughing and sneezing).

Some symptoms of Rubella include rash, fever, swollen glands and headache. It can result in sensorineural hearing loss as the virus directly attacks the cochlea, hair cells, and nerve fibres. 

Measles

Measles is a contagious virus. Infected people often present with fever, rash, cough, and conjunctivitis symptoms. It is passed on through coming into contact with droplets of infected people (coughing and sneezing). 

Measles mostly results in sensorineural hearing loss affecting both ears and can be quite severe. 

It is known that the virus invades the cochlea and causes deterioration of the delicate structures important for hearing. It can also affect the middle ear, leading to fluid build-up behind the eardrum. This is thought to occur due to an inflamed Eustachian tube, which leads to a blockage preventing aeration and drainage. 

Chickenpox and Shingles (Varicella Zoster Virus)

Chickenpox and shingles are contagious viruses passed on through contact with droplets of infected people (coughing and sneezing) or touching the lesions/blisters.

Symptoms of chickenpox and shingles include fever and rash. 

High-frequency sensorineural hearing loss results from these infections and is usually present in one ear of varying degrees. Tinnitus can also result from damage to the cochlea (hair cells) and auditory nerve. 

Mumps 

Mumps is a virus similar to measles and is passed on through contact with droplets of infected people (coughing and sneezing). 

People often experience inflamed glands and flu-like symptoms. 

Mumps can lead to sensorineural hearing loss, most often in one ear, but can recover. In some cases, it can be permanent. 

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)

HIV is a virus that presents with symptoms such as fever, sore throat and headache. It can result in either conductive hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss or mixed hearing loss. 

Conductive hearing loss can occur for several reasons, including a build-up of fluid in the middle ear and growth in the middle ear. 

Sensorineural hearing loss can occur either due to the virus damaging the inner ear, making one more susceptible to infection, or the use of medication that can damage the ear/hearing. It may affect one or both ears and may occur suddenly or gradually over time. 

In Summary 

Hearing loss can occur due to meningitis and other infections at any stage of life. 

These infections commonly affect the cochlea or hearing nerve. However, hearing loss can also result from damage to the outer or middle ear. 

One way to protect yourself and your children against these infections and the resulting hearing loss is to get vaccinated. 

However, if you think you or your child has developed hearing loss from one of the infections and have been referred by an audiologist to get hearing aids, look no further than EarDeals.

We offer a wide range of affordable and quality hearing aids to suit all needs. 

Visit our website to browse our range or contact us for more information. 

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