Treatment for mild encephalitis usually consists of:
- Bed rest
- Plenty of fluids
- Anti-inflammatory drugs — such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and naproxen sodium (Aleve) — to relieve headaches and fevers
Encephalitis caused by certain viruses usually requires antiviral treatment.
Antiviral medications commonly used to treat encephalitis include:
- Acyclovir (Zovirax)
- Ganciclovir (Valcyte, Zirgan, others)
- Foscarnet (Foscavir)
Some viruses, such as insect-borne viruses, don't respond to these treatments. But because the specific virus may not be identified immediately or at all, doctors often recommend immediate treatment with acyclovir. Acyclovir can be effective against , which can result in significant complications when not treated promptly.
Antiviral medications are generally well tolerated. Rarely, side effects can include kidney damage.
If the tests show an autoimmune cause of encephalitis, then immunosuppressant drugs such as steroids may be started.
People who are hospitalized with severe encephalitis might need:
- Breathing assistance, as well as careful monitoring of breathing and heart function
- Intravenous fluids to ensure proper hydration and levels of essential minerals
- Anti-inflammatory drugs, such as corticosteroids, to reduce swelling and pressure within the skull
- Anticonvulsant medications, such as phenytoin (Dilantin), to stop or prevent seizures
If you experience complications of encephalitis, you might need additional therapy, such as:
- Physical therapy to improve strength, flexibility, balance, motor coordination and mobility
- Occupational therapy to develop everyday skills and to use adaptive products that help with everyday activities
- Speech therapy to relearn muscle control and coordination to produce speech
- Psychotherapy to learn coping strategies and new behavioral skills to improve mood disorders or address personality changes
The treatment depends on the type of meningitis you or your child has.
Acute bacterial meningitis must be treated immediately with intravenous antibiotics and sometimes 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.
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 unknown, your doctor may start antiviral and antibiotic treatment while the cause is determined.
Treatment for chronic meningitis is 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.
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 specific cancer.