The treatment depends on the type of meningitis you or your child has.

Bacterial meningitis

Acute bacterial meningitis must be treated immediately with intravenous antibiotics and, more recently, corticosteroids. This helps to ensure recovery and reduce the risk of complications, such as brain swelling and seizures.

The antibiotic or combination of antibiotics depends on the type of bacteria causing the infection. Your doctor may recommend a broad-spectrum antibiotic until he or she can determine the exact cause of the meningitis.

Your doctor may drain any infected sinuses or mastoids — the bones behind the outer ear that connect to the middle ear.

Viral meningitis

Antibiotics can't cure viral meningitis, and most cases improve on their own in several weeks. Treatment of mild cases of viral meningitis usually includes:

  • Bed rest
  • Plenty of fluids
  • Over-the-counter pain medications to help reduce fever and relieve body aches

Your doctor may prescribe corticosteroids to reduce swelling in the brain, and an anticonvulsant medication to control seizures. If a herpes virus caused your meningitis, an antiviral medication is available.

Other types of meningitis

If the cause of your meningitis is unclear, your doctor may start antiviral and antibiotic treatment while the cause is determined.

Chronic meningitis is treated based on the underlying cause. Antifungal medications treat fungal meningitis and a combination of specific antibiotics can treat tuberculous meningitis. However, these medications can have serious side effects, so treatment may be deferred until a laboratory can confirm that the cause is fungal. Chronic meningitis is treated based on the underlying cause.

Noninfectious meningitis due to allergic reaction or autoimmune disease may be treated with corticosteroids. In some cases no treatment may be required, because the condition can resolve on its own. Cancer-related meningitis requires therapy for the individual cancer.