Joyce Knestrick, PhD, CRNP, FAANP
Summer is the season to head outdoors, but the looming threat of tick bites has many uneasy about a hike in the woods, with good reason. We are right smack in the middle of peak season for ticks, which means the chance of contracting Lyme disease from a single tick bite is relatively high, especially in the Northeast and Midwest, where 70 percent of the ballooning deer tick population is infected with the health-compromising disease.
Lyme disease is scary in part because the signs can be easy to miss, and undetected cases can progress from treatable to chronic without a patient ever seeing a tick. People on the lookout for the tell-tale bullseye to necessitate a trip to their health care provider may miss the critical treatment window. The reality is that 30 percent of people with Lyme disease never get that bullseye, and because the rash can move locations and is usually not itchy or painful, some people who have a skin reaction never notice it.
So how can you enjoy the outdoors with your family this summer and still avoid Lyme disease? Tick vigilance is a great first step – long sleeves and pants, insect repellent containing DEET and Permethrin for clothes and shoes will go a long way in warding off these pesky parasites. Still, there is always a risk of picking up a tiny hitchhiker when you head outside, so it’s important to understand the symptoms of an infected bite.
Here are eight common signs of Lyme disease that are often overlooked or that masquerade as other problems. If you notice these signs in your house, don’t hesitate to call a nurse practitioner to take a closer look.
Fatigue. Being tired is one thing, but feeling overwhelming, incurable exhaustion is a sign that something more is going on. More than 80 percent of kids with Lyme disease experience debilitating fatigue, and adults aren’t far behind.
Swollen lymph nodes. Lyme-causing bacteria like to hide out in lymph nodes causing them to enlarge and trigger a severe immune response.
Muscle aches. 60 percent of untreated patients will develop joint pain and swelling that can mask as arthritis or other localized problems.
Flu-like symptoms. Within one week of infection, half of people with Lyme disease experience symptoms commonly associated with the flu, like headache, sweats, fever, neck pain, sore throat and dizziness.
Heart palpitations. Lyme disease can cause a bacterial interference to the heart, resulting in chest pains, heart palpitations, shortness of breath and lightheadedness.
Panic attacks. Lyme disease can mimic a panic disorder, causing sleep disturbance, sweats and anxiety that can be treated with antibiotics instead of anti-anxiety medications.
Cognitive decline. Your brain fog may be the result of “Lyme brain” – real cognitive dysfunction that results from bacteria infiltration in the brain. 75 percent of kids with untreated Lyme have problems concentrating and 80 percent of adults experience memory loss.
Light sensitivity. Even indoor light can feel blinding for people suffering from Lyme disease. Upwards of 40 percent of kids with Lyme experienced double vision, blurriness, eye pain and other complications, and 70 percent suffer some sort of photophobia.
Don’t get stuck waiting for a rash that may never appear. There are roughly 300,000 cases of Lyme disease reported to the CDC every year, but this only partly paints the picture. Countless cases go undetected because the symptoms are broad and symptomatic of other problems. The first step to fast treatment is to recognize the many possible warning signs. Remember, a quick dose of antibiotics can eliminate years of pain and complications, so take don’t wait if you suspect something is wrong.