The severity of meningitis varies from one person to another. In common cases, medications can help solve the problem and the person may recover within 1 to 3 weeks. But in cases where there is a risk of the infection spreading to the meninges, hospitalization and other confirmation tests might be needed.
Your doctors will administer broad-spectrum antibiotics if they suspect that you are suffering from meningitis. The antibiotics will help fight non-viral kinds of meningitis that are infectious. Once they identify the type and cause of meningitis you’re suffering from, they will give you treatment that is more specific.
Diagnostic Tests at a Hospital
- A doctor first analyzes your symptoms and body conditions by conducting a physical examination, to understand if they relate to meningitis.
- Secondly, he will have to check if your case of meningitis is caused by some bacteria or a virus, for which a blood test will be conducted.
- Thirdly, a sample of your cerebrospinal fluid, or the fluid found above the meninges and cushions your brain and spinal cord against injuries, will be collected. This process is known as a lumbar puncture, or more popularly, a spinal tap.
- Next, the doctor will have you checked through a chest x-ray for the presence of fungal infections like pneumonia or tuberculosis.
- Finally, a CT scan of your brain will be done, to identify if there is any swelling or infection that has spread to the brain.
In cases where bacterial meningitis is suspected, antibiotics are administered before the confirmation of the diagnosis because the condition is very severe and can cause further complications. Usually, intravenous drugs are administered for quicker results. The antibiotics are stopped once the diagnosis shows that the meningitis is viral.
Treatment of Complications
If the person is suffering from acute meningitis, they will usually be treated using antibiotics and the person will be observed for 24 hours for any changes. In case the person has bacterial meningitis, which can spread to the brain, or is exhibiting symptoms like irritation, decreased consciousness, rapid heart rate, and high fever, they have to be treated immediately. Your blood and breathing conditions might be observed over a longer period to avoid any complications.
Treatment in a Hospital
It’s recommended that you get treatment in a hospital in case you have bacterial meningitis as it requires much attention and can result in complicated problems if left unattended to.
Viral meningitis that is severe also calls for treatment in a hospital.
- IV injections and fluids, which are injected into the body using an IV line. This is done to provide the body with the needed medication effectively and reduce dehydration symptoms.
- In case of breathing difficulties, an oxygen face mask will be placed over the patient's nose and mouth. If the breathing does not normalize, a breathing tube might also be introduced.
- People who face seizures or loss of consciousness might be inserted with larger IV lines, which lead to their chest, neck, or groin. Blood pressure is also measured continuously.
- If the passing of urine is not regular, a catheter might be placed in your bladder to check the urine's status.
- In extreme cases, steroid drugs that can assist in reducing any swelling in the brain might have to be administered.
Patients suffering from meningitis may be admitted to the hospital for some days. In other circumstances, they may be required to stay for a number of weeks.
After you get discharged, it may take a longer period to feel entirely normal again. Also, you may be subjected to additional treatment and long periods of support if complications like hearing loss occur.
Treatment at Home
Once a test reveals that you have only the mild type of meningitis caused by viral infection, you may be discharged from the hospital.
Viral meningitis will heal on its own within seven to ten days and does not cause any complications.
To relieve yourself from viral meningitis, it helps if you:
- get enough rest
- take painkillers if you have general aches including headaches
- take anti-nausea drugs to control vomiting
The meningococcal conjugate vaccine fights meningitis caused by Neisseria meningitides and is recommended for children and teenagers. This is important for kids living in hostels, travelers going to different countries and encountering many people, and people who have had blood-related problems. Pneumococcal meningitis, that is, meningitis caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae, can be reduced by the pneumonia vaccine and usually helps people who are over 65 years, suffering from chest infections, and anemia. For children, a routine Hib vaccine is administered. This is especially useful for children who have undergone bone marrow treatment, or who have cancer, AIDS, or low immunity.
Non-infectious sources of meningitis like autoimmune disorders, cancer, and certain drugs cannot be avoided with the use of vaccines.
Care after Treatment
No follow-up care is required if you recover fully from meningitis and are healthy again. But if a patient has some other health issues or has had bacterial meningitis, complications may be triggered and cause the recurrence of meningitis. Such patients should continue seeing their doctor even after recovery.
Bacterial meningitis can be severe, leading to a 90% case death rate or a 25% case death rate, even when the complications are not that severe. Disabilities like paralysis, blindness, deafness, heart failure, and loss of limbs can be the long-term problems of people with bacterial meningitis. Therefore, regular checkups, scans, and proper treatment can help in saving many lives.
Follow-up care should be insisted on even after recovery where children and infants are concerned. This is because they are highly susceptible to complications like hearing loss.
Preventing the Spread of Meningitis
Studies show that even if an infected person can spread the meningitis disease to other people, the risk is low. But if a patient is severely ill and is thought to be able to spread the infection, they should be given antibiotics as a precaution. People who have been near the patient for a long period should also see a doctor for preventive measures.
From a young age, children should be taught to wash their hands regularly and put a hand over the mouth when sneezing and coughing. They should also be immunized, and booster shot schedules should be kept up-to-date. People should quit spitting just anywhere such as roads and sidewalks. Alcohol and drugs should be avoided, and healthy habits need to be observed for healthy living.
- Tests are done to identify the cause and type of the patient's meningitis.
- The earlier you go for diagnosis and treatment of meningitis, the safer you are, because some types of meningitis can be severe, life-threatening, and can lead to complications.
- Even if you recover from bacterial meningitis, you are likely to suffer from permanent damage like hearing loss.