The long-term effects of meningitis vary depending on the severity of the infection. Meningitis tends to be viral, bacterial, or fungal in origin. Possible long-term effects include inflammation, hearing loss, speech problems, and more.

However, a person can sometimes develop the condition as a complication of cancer or lupus, for example.

When a person has meningitis, the meninges — membranes that line the brain and spinal cord — inflame and swell. As the swelling gets worse, the meninges push more against the brain and spinal cord, which can disrupt their function.

A person will likely make a full recovery if meningitis is mild or doctors can quickly get the swelling under control. However, in more serious cases, a person may need additional therapy and experience serious long lasting health problems.

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Viral meningitis is the most common form of meningitis in many parts of the world.

It is primarily enteroviruses that cause viral meningitis. However, most of these viruses are mild, and very few people who get an infection go on to develop meningitis. Instead, they present with cold or flu-like symptoms.

Other viruses that can cause meningitis include:

Unlike with bacterial meningitis, most people make a full recovery from viral meningitis.

However, some individuals may experience long-term complications, which include:

  • heart inflammation
  • psychological issues
  • swelling of the meninges and brain
  • brain stem inflammation

Younger babies, older adults, and those with a weakened immune system are more likely than other people to experience severe viral meningitis.

Bacterial meningitis is a serious and, in some cases, life threatening condition.

In fact, Neisseria meningitidis infections, which cause meningococcal disease, can result in long-term complications in about 25% of people.

Complications are also not uncommon in people who contract other forms of bacterial meningitis.

Possible long-term complications include:

  • speech problems
  • issues with memory
  • loss of coordination
  • learning difficulties
  • hearing loss
  • vision loss
  • seizures
  • hydrocephalus, which is a buildup of fluid in the brain

Vaccines help prevent bacterial meningitis and are available to children aged 11–12 years, who can have a booster at the age of 16 years.

People who live in close proximity to one another — for example, in university dormitories or hostels — have an increased risk of bacterial meningitis due to how easily it spreads in densely populated environments.

Learn more about bacterial meningitis here.

Fungal meningitis develops when a fungal infection in another area of the body spreads to the brain.

Fungi that cause meningitis include:

  • Candida: This fungus lives in the body and on the skin. It is usually harmless but can cause meningitis in people with a compromised immune system.
  • Blastomyces: Typically present in damp soil, decaying leaves, and wood, this fungus grows more in the midwestern, southeastern, and central states.
  • Cryptococcus: This fungus lives in different environments all over the world.
  • Coccidioides: People in the southwestern states are more likely to have exposure to this fungus.
  • Histoplasma: People are more likely to encounter this fungus in the central and eastern states. It grows mainly in soil and bird and bat droppings.

People who have recovered from fungal meningitis may experience some long-term effects, which may include:

  • fogginess
  • forgetfulness
  • confusion
  • pain
  • hydrocephalus

Anyone can get fungal meningitis, but people who have a weakened immune system or are taking immunosuppressing medications have a higher risk in comparison with the general population.

Preventing fungal meningitis is difficult, as it does not transmit between people. Nevertheless, there are some steps people can take to stop themselves from inhaling or coming into contact with fungal spores.

These include:

  • avoiding areas with a lot of dust, such as construction sites
  • wearing an N95 mask in dusty environments
  • closing all windows during dust storms
  • cleaning cuts and skin scrapes as soon as possible

Learn more about fungal meningitis here.

Noninfectious meningitis occurs when it is a condition or medication that causes meningitis, rather than a pathogen or disease-causing microorganism, such as a fungus.

Possible causes of noninfectious meningitis include:

  • head trauma
  • brain surgery
  • cancer
  • lupus
  • immunosuppressant medication

The long-term health effects that a person may experience after developing meningitis are similar regardless of the cause. It is the severity of meningitis that dictates the resulting long-term health effects.

Although the following complications are more likely to occur in cases of bacterial meningitis, they may also present in people with noninfectious meningitis.

These complications include:

  • problems with memory and concentration
  • hearing loss
  • seizures
  • learning difficulties
  • arthritis
  • vision loss

The long-term health effects that a person lives with after meningitis can be serious. They may include seizures and hearing loss.

Complications tend to occur more in cases of bacterial meningitis, which is usually more severe than other forms of meningitis. Most people who contract viral meningitis make a full recovery and experience no long-term health effects.

Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial in preventing serious meningitis complications.