Tiny as ticks are, they can be very harmful because they can cause Lyme disease. Cases of Lyme disease in the US alone have increased in the past few years. And it will keep on growing if left unchecked. One of the best ways to prevent this from happening to you and your family is to learn all you can about it. From the disease itself, the causes, symptoms, and ways to prevent it, there’s a lot to learn!
You may not see it but the black-legged tick is always on the move. Generally, ticks come in three different sizes and the size depends on the tick’s life stages. In the larval stage, a tick is as small as a grain of sand. When the tick becomes a nymph, it grows to the size of a poppy seed. Finally, adult ticks are as big as apple seeds.
What is Lyme Disease?
A bacteria known as Borrelia burgdorferi causes Lyme disease. It gets transmitted to people who get bitten by an infected deer or black-legged tick. Symptoms may manifest anywhere from a couple of days to a month after the person gets bitten. Also, the symptoms are wide-ranging and they depend on the person’s stage of infection. There are also some cases where the symptoms only manifest a few months after being bitten.
According to the CDC, a person’s chances of getting Lyme disease depends on the type of tick, the body part where the person got bitten, and how long the tick was attached to the person. In order to transmit the disease, a black-legged tick must be attached to the person for about 36-48 hours. So if the person is able to remove the tick within that time period, the chances of getting infected aren’t very high.
Unfortunately, because the ticks are really small, a person’s eyesight must be really good if he wants to spot the tick in time. Again, the CDC recommends that anyone who has been working in their garden, through the woods or in areas with tall grass should check his or her skin afterward. It’s best to do this in the bath or in the shower so one can see all the parts of his body as well as his clothes which may also carry the ticks.
Once a person has spotted a tick (or more), he can remove it immediately using a pair of tweezers with fine tips. It’s best to use steady pressure and pull the tick out with an upward motion. If there are any parts of the tick left on the skin, it’s important to remove them using the tweezers too. After the skin is clear of the tick, clean the area of the bite with water and soap or rubbing alcohol.
What’s the “Real” Cause of Lyme Disease?
Most people know that tick bites cause Lyme disease. However, there’s more to the disease than just the bite. When the bite gets infected, it will cause the disease to develop. Also, the disease may be linked to specific factors including a weakened immune system, inhibited protection and function of the cells, a bacterial infection that’s systemic, and some environmental factors such as exposure to parasites and mold.
A person who struggles with Lyme disease may also be experiencing one or more of these factors. Also, some people may be able to overcome the condition more easily than other people. But for some, the disease becomes chronic which means that they experience the symptoms for months or years. Unfortunately for these people, their bodies don’t respond to the traditional treatments and they may experience a lot of hardships because of the disease.
Some experts believe that there may be thousands of people who actually have the disease but they aren’t aware of it. In fact, not every person who tests positive for the bacteria which causes Lyme disease will experience the symptoms. The bottom line is this: each and every person hosts a range of bacteria, fungus, viruses, and even cancerous cells in their body at one point or another. But the important thing is the strength of a person’s immune system as this is what keeps all those foreign invaders from making the body sick.
What Are the Common Symptoms of Lyme Disease?
The earliest symptoms and signs of Lyme disease include headaches, chills, fatigue, fever, joint and muscle pain, and swelling of the lymph nodes. Also, in most cases of Lyme disease, one of the first symptoms is a rash. If left unchecked, the symptoms of the condition may worsen. Basically, the symptoms occur in different stages of the disease.
- Early stage of Lyme disease. This stage develops within a couple of days or weeks after the person gets bitten by the tick. The symptoms are usually flu-like such as headaches, fatigue, fever, and more. It’s also possible for the person to get a bull’s eye rash during this stage.
- Late stage or chronic Lyme disease. The development of this stage occurs within weeks, months or even years (though very rarely) after the person gets bitten. Since this stage is already severe, it can be quite debilitating. Common symptoms for this stage include rashes, severe headaches, painful arthritis, other types of skin issues, heart problems, swelling of the joints, neurological impairment, and even disorders which involve the central nervous system.
Without proper treatment, the symptoms of the disease can progress even further. Such symptoms may include neck stiffness, rashes which appear on other parts of the body, severe swelling and pain in the joints, muscle tone loss, “drooping” of one or even both sides of the face, heartbeat irregularities, inflammation of the spinal cord and brain, numbness, shooting pains, or tingling of the feet or hands.
What Must You Do if You Get Bitten by a Tick?
Even when faced with the worst-case scenarios, it’s important not to panic. There are early treatments and intervention procedures available. When in doubt, one can place the tick in a sealed container then consult with his physician. Remember that ticks have to be attached to the skin for at least 24 hours before they will be able to transmit the disease. Therefore, discovering them early and removing them correctly can reduce the risk of infection. If bitten by a tick, try these methods for removing the pest:
- Straw and knot method. Place an ordinary drinking straw over the tick at a 45° angle. The straw will serve as a guide for directing the knot. Then with some thread, tie a knot at the midsection or the top of the straw. Then slide the knot down the straw all the way to the site of the bite. Place the knot underneath the belly of the tick so that it encircles only the embedded part. Gradually tighten the knot so it will snugly close around the tick’s jaws. Then gently take out the straw then start pulling the thread in a steady and upward motion. This action will detach the tick without risk of regurgitation.
- Transdermal blister method. With this method, the doctor injects xylocaine with adrenaline to the patient intradermally. This will create a blister at the site of the bite. The tick will then release its grip on the skin because of the pressure from the swelling and the lack of blood.
- Tweezer method. Among all these methods, this one is the least recommended. This is because there’s a risk that the head or the jaws of the tick will get separated from the body and stay on the skin. For this method, use a pair of tweezers with fine points to grasp the tick’s mouthparts. Then slowly pull the tick out without twisting.
These methods will keep the tick alive so you can have it examined for potential diseases. To prevent the tick from dying, place it on a wet paper towel then place that in a medicine container or a plastic bag. Then place the container in the freezer until it’s time to have it tested.
Are Children at Risk for Lyme Disease?
Even children are at risk for Lyme disease especially those between the ages of 5-13 years old. These kids are prone to tick bites because they spend a lot of time playing outdoors. Although ticks generally prefer bushy or densely-wooded areas which have tall grass, a lot of children and adults may get bitten by ticks while playing or performing other kinds of outdoor activities such as gardening. If a child has been playing in an area which is known to have deer or black-legged ticks, it’s important to check the child from head to toe after spending time outdoors. If a tick is found, the parent can perform any of the methods for tick removal then wash the bite site using water and soap. Even if parents are able to remove the tick right away, they should still monitor their child for any symptoms of the disease.
Stages and Diagnosis of Lyme Disease
Lyme disease has three main stages and they all have different symptoms. First of all, there’s the early, localized stage. At this stage, the person will manifest flu-like symptoms such as headaches, chills, fever, swollen lymph nodes, a sore throat, and a bull’s eye rash. The second stage is the early, disseminated stage where the person will also experience flu-like symptoms. Other symptoms that manifest at this stage include numbness, pain or weakness in the arms and legs. Also, the person may experience heart palpitations, chest pain, facial paralysis, and changes in vision. Finally, there’s the late, disseminated stage which may occur weeks, months, or even years after the person gets bitten by a tick. During this stage, the person will experience more severe symptoms such as severe headaches and fatigue, arthritis, mental confusion, vertigo, and sleep disturbances.
Although experts don’t really understand it, about 10% of those treated for Lyme disease aren’t able to shake it off. Even after the treatment, these people may still experience the core symptoms namely mental confusion or short-term memory loss, fatigue, and muscle or joint pain. When this happens, it’s known as post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome and it’s quite controversial. There are some theories which may explain while the symptoms of Lyme disease become chronic. One such theory is that it becomes something like an autoimmune disorder because the body will continue fighting-off the infection even after the bacteria is long gone.
Doctors diagnose Lyme disease based on the symptoms as well as the history of the tick exposure. If used properly, there are two-step blood tests which can be very helpful in the diagnosis. However, the test’s accuracy would depend on when you acquired the infection. If you get the test in the first couple of weeks after getting infected, the test may come out negative. This is because the antibodies need a couple of weeks for them to develop. Therefore, such tests aren’t advisable for people who haven’t manifested the symptoms of Lyme disease yet.
Treatment of Lyme Disease
During the early stages of Lyme disease, doctors would prescribe antibiotics as treatment. Typically, a patient would have to take doxycycline from 10 days up to 3 weeks. Or a patient may take cefuroxime and amoxicillin for about 2-3 weeks. In most cases, taking antibiotics would be enough to cure the disease. But if that doesn’t do the job, patients may have to take other kinds of antibiotics either intravenously or orally.
If the Lyme disease is in the early disseminated stage, then the doctor may recommend oral antibiotics for the symptoms. This stage occurs when the infection is left unchecked or untreated and the person will start experiencing symptoms like abnormal heart rhythm, facial palsy, and more. If the person also has severe heart problems, meningitis, or an inflammation of the spinal cord or brain’s lining, the doctor may prescribe intravenous antibiotics.
Finally, if the Lyme disease is already in the late stage, the doctor may also prescribe intravenous or oral antibiotics. If, after the treatment, the person is left with lingering arthritis, he would have to receive conventional arthritis treatment. Unfortunately, there’s no treatment for post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome.
Natural Forms of Treatment for Lyme Disease
Aside from taking antibiotics, there are also natural ways to treat Lyme disease. These remedies are easy to do and can be very effective when followed correctly. Consider these natural forms of treatment:
- Eat healthy foods to improve the functions of the immune system. One of the best ways to overcome Lyme disease, especially the chronic kind, is to give the immune system a boost. This will help lower the inflammation and control the root cause of the disease’s symptoms. Once a person is able to control the inflammatory responses that the disease is triggering, only then will his body be able to overcome the disease.
Basically, people with Lyme disease or any other type of inflammatory condition should try to eliminate fruits, sugar, and grains from their diet while also consuming a lot of anti-inflammatory foods. These include bone broth, seeds, nuts, vegetables, coconut, raw cultured dairy, and organic meat.
There are some types of foods which can naturally give the immune system a boost. Foods which are rich in antioxidants are very beneficial to the immune system. Such foods include leafy greens and other vegetables with bright colors. These kinds of vegetables can help reduce inflammation as well as free-radical damages. They can also lower the risk for nutrient deficiencies and help protect the body from the complications of Lyme disease.
Bone broth is another excellent immune-booster. It naturally contains glycine and proline which are amino acids. These can help improve the immune system and fix a “leaky gut.” The health of the gut and the digestive system are important in the overall functioning of the immune system. As a matter of fact, about 70% of the body’s immune system is located in the gut. Therefore, foods which help replenish the healthy bacteria in the gut and rebuild the gastrointestinal tract’s lining are very beneficial.
Finally, foods which are rich in probiotics are also excellent for the immune system. According to research, probiotics can help reduce the symptoms and the progression of infectious diseases such as Lyme disease. So it’s a good idea to consume a lot of these foods to make one’s immune system stronger. If a person wants to eliminate all the bad bacteria from his system, the best thing to do is overcrowd his gut with probiotics otherwise known as the good bacteria.
- Take supplements to help enhance the functions of the cells. This is another natural treatment for Lyme disease. Anyone who wants to manage the disease must improve his cellular protection and functioning. When infected, the bacteria that causes the disease can attack a person’s healthy cells and weaken the body’s defenses. Because of this, one can take supplements to stay healthy.
Vitamin D is a beneficial supplement which can boost the immunity naturally while playing a role in the regulation of inflammations. It’s especially important for people who suffer from vitamin D deficiency. CoQ10 is a supplement which can protect the nervous system and the brain from inflammation and degradation. It can also help reduce symptoms like joint aches and pains. This supplement is commonly taken by people who suffer from symptoms of autoimmune disorders and chronic fatigue.
Medical mushrooms can also be taken to promote the health of the immune system and control autoimmune reactions. These medical mushrooms come in various forms including supplements. They can help reduce the reactions to stress and inflammation. Medical mushroom supplements can give the intracellular antioxidants a boost in order to protect the cells. They can also enhance the functions of killer cells which eliminate the bad bacteria in the body.
One may also take B-complex supplements. B vitamins support a lot of the cellular and metabolic functions. They can also help the body fight infections and enhance the health of the neurological system. For those with Lyme disease, vitamin B-6 is especially relevant. Omega-3 fatty acid supplements can also be very beneficial because they have anti-inflammatory properties and they support cognitive and neurological functions. Aside from consuming foods which are rich in Omega-3’s, supplementing can help make one healthier and less prone to the symptoms of Lyme disease.
There are also magnesium supplements which can help one cope with stress. This is especially essential for people who have Lyme disease and are also experiencing a lot of stress. Turmeric can also be beneficial because of its natural anti-inflammatory properties. This can help reduce symptoms such as headaches, joint pain, and even damages to nerves or blood vessels.
- Get adequate rest and learn how to manage stress. Chronic stress, whether emotional or physical, can make the immune system weaker. When this happens, it will increase your risk of getting ill or infected. Stress can also trigger inflammations and cause hormonal imbalances. They can also disturb the functions of one’s digestive system which, in turn, can worsen the symptoms of Lyme disease. Therefore, if a person wants to prevent the worsening or spreading of the infection, one must learn how to manage stress.
In order to fight chronic stress, it’s important to incorporate rest into one’s routine. Spend quality time alone, with family, or with friends regularly. This may seem silly to some but this will greatly reduce one’s stress and make him healthier overall. People who have Lyme disease should focus on getting a lot of rest. Lyme disease can even contribute to fatigue which means that the person may have to get even more sleep and relaxation.
- Reduce exposure to molds and parasites. According to experts, environmental triggers can play a big role in the development of Lyme disease and other autoimmune diseases. These triggers include bacteria, viruses, and other types of pathogens which can cause infections. Exposure to molds, parasites, and other such triggers can contribute to lasting symptoms of Lyme disease by causing unnecessary stress on the immune system.
If a person wants to treat toxicity and other parasitic infections, one can use activated carbon or activated charcoal. This has been proven quite effective in helping the body get rid of harmful and toxic substances. If treating parasites specifically, it’s best to consume foods which have low sugar contents but are rich in the healthy fats. It will also be very beneficial to take probiotic-rich foods or supplements.
- Here’s a bonus!. Although not widely-known, stevia may help eliminate Lyme disease. Although this sounds “too good to be true,” evidence suggests that stevia has a beneficial side effect which can include eliminating the pathogen that’s responsible for Lyme disease.
Preventing Tick Bites to Prevent Lyme Disease
The good thing about ticks is that they can’t jump or fly. Rather, they live in bushes or shrubs and they grab on to people who pass by. This means that people can actually avoid getting bitten by ticks in order to prevent the disease. Here are some tips:
- When taking a walk in the woods or in areas which have a lot of trees, it’s important to wear socks and long pants. The same thing goes for when one handles fallen leaves.
- Wear a tick repellent on the skin and the clothes which contains eucalyptus, lemon oil or DEET.
- One may even use permethrin, a kind of chemical, on camping gear and on clothing as this will provide more protection.
- After spending a lot of time outdoors, it’s best to take a shower within 2 hours.
- Also, check one’s skin, hair, and clothes for ticks after spending a lot of time outdoors.
- Place the exposed gear or clothes into a hot dryer to kill the ticks or pests which might remain.
General Tips and Tricks for Those Living With Lyme Disease
Unfortunately, no matter how much one tries to prevent getting the disease, there may come a time when the person acquires the infection anyway. In such cases, the best thing to do is live with the disease and prevent it from getting worse.
- Deal with the sun sensitivity. Some people with Lyme disease may take doxycycline and would become strongly affected by the sun. In such cases, using sunscreen won’t be advisable as this is ineffective against the sun sensitivity. The best thing to do is to stay indoors especially when the sun is high in the sky and the UV rays are highly damaging as well. One can also wear long pants and shirts with long sleeves to get protection from the rays of the sun. Other protective gears include sunglasses, hats with a wide brim, and light gloves.
- Take probiotics. Anyone who takes antibiotics to treat the Lyme disease should also take probiotics at least a few hours before taking the medications. The reason for this is that the antibiotics tend to kill the bad bacteria along with the good bacteria in the gut. When this happens, it will make the person more susceptible to other infections.
- Have blood tests. Some of the medications prescribed for the treatment of Lyme disease are very strong. These medications can cause the bugs that are responsible for the disease to die off which causes them to release neurotoxins that can cause damage to the brain and to the other organs of the body. That’s why it’s important to have blood tests regularly to check if the liver, kidney, and other organs are still functioning normally. It’s also important to have one’s neutrophil and white cell count checked regularly as well so that he can find out exactly how his immune system is coping with the disease.
- Watch out for co-infections. According to studies, almost everyone who suffers from Lyme disease also has some kind of co-infection which they may have acquired at the same time as the infection. There are different kinds of co-infections and it’s crucial that the person treats this as well. This is because co-infections can further weaken the immune system which will make it difficult for the body to fight off the Lyme disease too.
- Keep the immune system healthy. When a person has a weakened immune system, he should stay away from anyone who’s sick. A lot of people who have died from Lyme disease typically die because they’ve acquired infections from the people around them. Therefore, if the immune system is low, one needs to be very careful when interacting with others. Taking precautions can save one’s life no matter how simple those precautions are.
- Stay away from hot weather and conditions. Usually, people who suffer from Lyme disease may notice that their condition worsens in hot weather and conditions. So for those who live in places with hot climates, they have to stay indoors if possible with air-conditioning, during the daytime. Then the person can go outside when the temperature drops which usually happens after the sun goes down. Unfortunately, the hot and humid weather is a lot more challenging to deal with that hot and dry weather.
- Expect hot flushes and night sweats. Sometimes, people with Lyme disease may experience hot flushes and night sweats. In such cases, one can keep a miniature portable fan on hand. Keep one beside the bed in case these start causing sleep disturbances. When feeling hot, sleep while facing the portable fan. Once cooled down, turn over and sleep while facing the opposite direction. This will be very helpful in controlling the body’s temperature throughout the night.
- Follow a healthy diet. People who suffer from Lyme disease also need to be careful with their diet. Again, this is mainly because the disease impacts the immune system. Also, the immune system gets affected by the medications prescribed to treat the disease. Those who take antibiotics orally should stay away from foods which contain a lot of sugar. Oral antibiotics tend to kill all the bacteria in the gut, both the bad and the good. So if the person also eats a lot of sugar, this feeds the bad bacteria. Then the person will run the risk of developing a Clostridium difficile infection which can be potentially fatal.
If one wants to heal from the disease, it’s important to keep the immune system healthy and functioning optimally. When a person consumes sugar-based food or drinks, it will temporarily depress the immune system for as long as 12 hours. A lot of people who have this disease have damaged GI systems. Therefore, they need to stay away from foods which tend to put extra stress on their gut such as dairy and gluten.
- Get ready for the long haul. The treatment of Lyme disease can run quite long. As a matter of fact, the average time one would spend for treating Lyme disease is about 2 years. Of course, some people don’t need this much time while others require longer treatment. When treated properly, a lot of people are able to achieve remission. Unfortunately, when their immune systems are under stress or when they experience stressful situations, the disease tends to return. That’s why people who have had this condition need to keep on monitoring their health even if they’re able to get into remission. That way, they will be able to overcome the relapse quickly.
What Support is Available for Those Living With Lyme Disease?
Anyone who suffers from Lyme disease must be able to know that there’s hope. Fortunately, there’s support available for people who have to live with this condition. It’s a fact that Lyme disease can be a very isolating condition. A lot of people diagnosed with this disease are usually in the late or chronic stages. Also, many of those people are severely affected because of poor health. At its worst, people might lose their homes, their jobs, and a lot of their relationships. The best thing to do is surround oneself with those who can provide the support needed.
- Family. Although the person who has Lyme disease feels bad because of the illness, his family members may also have a hard time dealing with the illness. No one wants to see any of their family members suffering. The important thing is to stick with each other and try to support each other throughout the illness. Having a supportive family will also make the healing process faster especially if the rest of the family will help out in terms of home care. This is especially important for children who have the disease. It’s much more difficult when kids are sick. It’s stressful for the parents as well as for the kids which is why support from family is so important.
- Friends. When a person suffers from Lyme disease, he will be able to find out who his true friends are. Aside from being painful, this disease can be very lonely. But if a person can find friends who will stand by him throughout the illness, this can make things a lot better.
- Counseling. There may be times when the strain of the disease or having to support someone who has the disease gets too much. In such cases, it’s would be a good idea to speak to a psychologist or a counselor to be able to cope with the situation. For those who can’t afford professional help, there are also free counseling services available. Usually, the people who offer free counseling services are those who know what it’s like to live with an illness that’s either life-threatening or chronic. No matter what kind of support one is able to get, it will definitely be a huge help.