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How Meningitis Leads to Hearing Loss

Today is World Meningitis Day—a day to raise awareness about the disease, its symptoms, the importance of urgent treatment, and ways to prevent it. While meningitis can be fatal if not treated promptly, those who survive the disease can be left with its side effects for the rest of their lives. These potentially include epilepsy, learning disabilities, and hearing loss.

What is meningitis?

Meningitis is a condition in which the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord become inflamed. It is most commonly caused by a viral infection, but it can also result from bacterial or fungal infections. Meningitis affects more than a million people each year, and while anyone can contract the disease, there are certain risk factors that can increase your risk. These include not being vaccinated against meningitis, living in a community setting (like a college dorm or military base), pregnancy, or having a compromised immune system. Age is also a factor, with meningitis most likely to affect children under five years old and teens between 15 and 19.

Connection to hearing loss

If meningitis affects the brain and spinal cord, how then can it cause hearing loss? The inflammation can damage the nerves that run between the ear and brain, or if swelling spreads to the inner ear, it can damage the cochlea directly. If meningitis is diagnosed and treated early enough, the hearing loss can be reversed. However, research finds that 10 percent of children who had meningitis are left with permanent hearing damage.

Danyell’s story

The effects of hearing loss from meningitis are well known to Danyell Schendel. After a bout with the disease as a child, she was left with nearly total hearing loss in her right ear. This gave her a sense of shame about being different, and it made communicating with others difficult. Her hearing loss also impacted her career. As an aspiring actress, it was challenging for her to hear directions when on set.

After living with her single-sided hearing loss for more than 20 years, Danyell finally decided to do something about it. She met with a hearing care professional who fitted her with Signia CROS hearing aids. Through this advanced technology, the device on her right side transmits sound wirelessly to the hearing aid on her “good” left ear, enabling her to hear sounds from all around her.

Raising awareness of meningitis and hearing loss

Although Danyell eventually sought treatment for the hearing loss caused by meningitis, she spent most of her life living with what she referred to as a “shadow” on her right side and feeling like an outcast. That’s why it’s so important to raise awareness about this devastating illness and how to prevent it from affecting you and your loved ones. And if someone you know has already contracted the disease, it’s crucial that they be treated for any enduring side effects like hearing loss, so they don’t have to feel isolated and alone.