Headaches and Recognizing the Warning Signs of Meningitis

A recent article emphasized the importance of recognizing symptoms that may mean you have meningitis, including headaches.


Meningitis is an inflammation of the fluid and membranes (meninges) surrounding your brain and spinal cord. The swelling from meningitis typically triggers signs and symptoms such as headache, fever and a stiff neck.

Most cases of meningitis in the United States are caused by a viral infection, but bacterial, parasitic and fungal infections are other causes. Some cases of meningitis improve without treatment in a few weeks. Others can be life-threatening and require emergency antibiotic treatment.


Early meningitis symptoms may mimic the flu (influenza). Symptoms may develop over several hours or over a few days.

Possible signs and symptoms in anyone older than the age of 2 include:

  • Sudden high fever
  • Stiff neck
  • Severe headache that seems different from normal
  • Headache with nausea or vomiting
  • Confusion or difficulty concentrating
  • Seizures
  • Sleepiness or difficulty waking
  • Sensitivity to light
  • No appetite or thirst
  • Skin rash (sometimes, such as in meningococcal meningitis)

Understanding When a Headache Isn’t Just a Headache

There are numerous reasons why you might be suffering from a headache, such as dehydration, changes in weather, or poor posture. However, your headache can be a warning sign that something more serious is affecting you. One condition that can be signaled by headaches is meningitis, so it is important to understand the differences between a regular headache and a meningitis headache.

Typically, headaches are not very dangerous and will disappear on their own after 30 minutes to an hour. They can be treated easily with over-the-counter pain medications, taking time to lay down in a dark and quiet room, and hot or cold compresses.

On the other hand, meningitis headaches are incredibly painful and bring with them other symptoms as well. If you have a meningitis headache, you may feel tired and confused, suffer from loss of vision, have trouble speaking, deal with memory issues, have a high temperature, and the white part of your eye may turn red. If this is the case for you, doctors warn you to call 9-1-1 or head straight to the emergency room.

Meningitis can be particularly scary because it can turn life-threatening very quickly if not treated as soon as possible. Therefore, some other symptoms you should look out for is a stiff neck, a sensitivity to bright lights, being sick, getting a rash, and seizures. The rash that comes with meningitis is recognizable through the way it does not fade.

Treating Meningitis

One preventative measure you can take against meningitis is getting the meningitis vaccine. This offers some level of protection against the condition and is a recommended step from most medical professionals.

However, if you get infected with meningitis, you will likely have to stay in the hospital for testing and treatment. There are a few ways to treat the condition, including using antibiotics and steroid medications.

Mild cases of meningitis can occasionally be treated at home with a few simple measures. These measures include getting lots of rest, taking painkillers, and taking anti-sickness medication if you are suffering from nausea and/or vomiting.

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