How Meningitis Is Treated

The treatment for meningitis is based on the cause and the severity of inflammation. Treatment is focused on reducing swelling and inflammation around the brain and on maintaining your physical comfort as you recover. The treatment will also include antibiotics if your meningitis is caused by a bacterial infection, and antivirals for some specific types of viral infections.

Home Remedies and Lifestyle

Home remedies are focused on comfort and maintaining fluid hydration and nutrition as you recover. Most people recover from meningitis, but the illness itself can cause you to feel run down for days or even weeks.

Neck Support

If your neck pain can be relieved with pillows or soft neck support aids, you should absolutely use whatever provides you with relief and helps you maintain a comfortable position for your neck. 

Ice Packs

Most people experience relief with ice packs or cold compresses placed on or near the head, neck, or shoulders. As with the neck support, you should use whatever makes you comfortable as you are recovering from meningitis. 

Head Pads

You may experience some relief with heat, particularly if you have developed muscle spasms in your neck and shoulders as a result of the persistent head and neck pain. 

Staying Hydrated

Often, people with meningitis feel exhausted and may have a decreased appetite. It is important to pay extra attention to drinking enough fluids to prevent yourself from becoming dehydrated. This cannot cure your meningitis, but it can help you recover faster once the inflammation or infection resolves.

Maintaining Adequate Nutrition

As with drinking, you may be too exhausted to eat, but try to eat during your recovery so that you can bounce back faster once the meningitis resolves.

Rest

Maintaining enough rest is vital to recovery from infection and inflammation. If you or your child has meningitis, getting enough rest while you recover can help your body heal.

Over-the-Counter Therapies

OTC treatments can be used to control the pain and discomfort of meningitis. They cannot help the inflammation or infection itself resolve, but the pain and aches can be bothersome, so you might want to alleviate these symptoms with mild medications.

Similarly, if your child has meningitis, pain medications and anti-inflammatory treatments, at the doses recommended for children, can provide some relief as your child recovers.

NSAIDS

Several medications, including ibuprofen and naproxen, can help relieve pain. These medications also have anti-inflammatory effects, which can help with some of the neck pain. The anti-inflammatory effect, however, is not actually strong enough to treat the inflammation of meningitis itself.

Acetaminophen (Tylenol)

This pain medication can provide relief for your neck and headaches to make you more comfortable for a few hours, especially if the pain is mild to moderate in severity.

Prescriptions 

Prescription medications for meningitis include antibiotic medications aimed at treating the infection if it is caused by bacteria, and sometimes anti-viral medication if a virus causes the infection.

Prescription strength medications to reduce inflammation and fluid buildup in the brain may be needed whether the cause of your meningitis is an infection or not.

Antibiotics

If your meningitis is caused by a bacteria that is identified, then you will need to take antibiotics, most often given intravenously (IV).

Often your doctor can select the right antibiotics to treat you before the specific type of bacteria that is causing your meningitis is identified, based on your medical history, symptoms and recent exposures. Identification of the bacterial infection may take a few days, and, in the rare instances when the infection requires a different antibiotic, your doctor may switch your therapy.

Antiviral

If you test positive for viral meningitis that can be treated with medication, your doctor may prescribe an anti-viral medication for you. Most of the time, viral meningitis improves on its own without a specific treatment. 

Steroids

IV (intravenous) or oral (by mouth) steroids can be used to reduce inflammation in selected cases of meningitis where the inflammation is felt to be concerning enough that it may cause harm.

Diuretics

Sometimes meningitis can cause fluid to build up in the brain. In these instances, your doctor may prescribe a diuretic.

Vaccinations

Vaccines are among the most effective ways to prevent infectious meningitis. Meningococcal, Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib), and pneumococcal conjugate vaccines (PCV) can prevent meningitis and have been shown to prevent meningitis-related deaths.

Meningitis Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Man

Specialist Driven Procedures

Procedures are not usually necessary for the treatment of meningitis unless there is excessive pressure on the brain due to swelling, inflammation, or blockage of the normal flow of fluid. 

Ventriculoperitoneal (VP) Shunt

If you have fluid pressure, which can cause damage to the brain, you may need to have that fluid physically removed. This requires an interventional procedure to access your cerebrospinal fluid.

A VP shunt is a device that can be placed in the ventricles of your brain if your doctors have reason to think that the fluid may continue to build up.

Complementary Medicine (CAM)

In general, alternative therapies are not recommended for the treatment of meningitis. However, holistic care, which is focused on a broad-based approach to treating illness, may help the overall improvement.

Evodia Extract

An interesting research study in Korea looked at extract from the roots Evodia lepta, a medicinal plant that has been used for treatment of meningitis and hepatitis. The plant appears to have anti-inflammatory properties when examined in a laboratory setting.

In general, plant extracts have not been proven strong enough to counteract severe infection and inflammation.

Stress Management

Anxiety and stress may interfere with the optimal function of your immune system, prolonging your illness. Therefore, measures to decrease stress may be of benefit during the treatment of meningitis.

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Article Sources

  1. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Meningitis and Encephalitis Fact Sheet. Modified August 13, 2019.

  2. Davis S, Feikin D, Johnson HL. The effect of Haemophilus influenzae type B and pneumococcal conjugate vaccines on childhood meningitis mortality: a systematic review. BMC Public Health. 2013;13 Suppl 3:S21. doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-S3-S21


  3. Yoon JY, Jeong HY, Kim SH, et al. Methanol extract of Evodia lepta displays Syk/Src-targeted anti-inflammatory activity. J Ethnopharmacol. 2013 Jul 30;148(3):999-1007. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2013.05.030