May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month
Lyme Disease Treatment Options
Known as a tick-borne illness, Lyme disease is diagnosed in approximately 476,000 Americans each year. But among these hundreds of thousands, the majority of Lyme and tickborne cases go undetected and 36% of those treated early remain symptomatic after treatment. The debilitating symptoms of Lyme disease can significantly reduce a person’s capacity to work and care for themselves and loved ones. Lyme disease is considered one of the most complex bacterial infections leading to autoimmunity in which cells in the body attack healthy tissue. This article will outline Lyme disease prevention and treatment options. Let’s get a better understanding of how Lyme Disease is contracted, the difference between acute versus chronic symptoms, and how herbal and medical approaches to treatment can facilitate recovery from Lyme disease.
Which Ticks Transmit Lyme Disease?
The disease is triggered by a bite from an infected black-legged tick (aka deer tick) which lives in wooded and grassy areas where it feeds on rodents and small animals that can carry Lyme. Even if you don’t spend time in the woods, a city can have a “tick hotspot” that can pop up in a park making it possible to pick up an infected tick.
The disease-carrying bite often comes from an “infant” tick (nymph) that’s about the size of a poppy seed. The nymph bite is not very painful. Most people won’t realize they’ve been bitten unless the sharper bite of the adult tick pierces their skin. The adult tick is also easier to see and remove before the disease is transmitted. Research shows that in most cases, a tick has to be attached to the skin for 24 hours or more for the bacterium that causes Lyme disease to be transmitted to human blood. Though other tick borne infections (Borrelia, Rickettsia, Bartonella, Babesia, Anaplasma/Ehrlichia can be transmitted in less hours than this.
Symptoms of Lyme Disease
A person may have the tell-tale bullseye rash that appears on the skin after a tick bite, accompanied by flu-like symptoms. Research shows, however, that only about 30% of people with Lyme Disease had these “classic” symptoms–including the bullseye rash. Why might this be?
Bullseye rash (also called erythema migrans) can occur a week or longer after the bite. It is often characterized by a circular red center surrounded by a region of normal-looking skin and one or more outer red rings. Erythema migrans can also present as a solid, colored lesion without any rings.
One theory indicates that a strong immune system can keep Lyme disease in a dormant state in your body for months or years. Therefore, if you have symptoms, but not the classic bite mark, it’s best to request the diagnostic tests for Lyme Disease.
There is a difference between acute (or classic) symptoms and chronic symptoms of Lyme Disease.
The acute symptoms a person may experience following a tick bite include:
- Bullseye rash
- Pain, sometimes heat at the bite area
- Fever, chills
- Shortness of breath
- Neck stiffness
- Loss of muscle tone in the face (facial palsy)
- Muscle and/or joint pain
- Inflammation in the spinal cord and brain
If the disease has been dormant or was missed during the acute stage, a person can experience a great variability of chronic symptoms.
Chronic symptoms of Lyme disease can include:
- Tingling, numbness, or burning sensations (nerve pain)
- Stiff or sore neck
- Sensitivity to light and sound
- Difficulty falling/staying asleep
- Problems with memory, concentration
- Chronic or intense flares of fatigue
- Debilitating pain that migrates around the body
- Variability in “good” & “bad” days, without changing self-care or medical regimen
Diagnosing Lyme Disease
If the bullseye rash is present, it is considered diagnostic for Lyme disease. If the bite is not present or questionable, a doctor will order specific tests including ELISA, Western Blot, Igenex, or others to test for the presence of the bacteria (B. burgdorferi) that causes Lyme disease. Antibodies can take weeks to develop so testing too soon can give a false-negative. If symptoms persist or change, the blood is re-tested.
Lyme Disease Treatment
The standard mainstream treatment for acute Lyme disease is a course of antibiotics for 14 to 21 days. If the illness affects the central nervous system, intravenous antibiotics are typically given. Following antibiotic treatment, a person may have lingering health problems from the bacterial infection such as muscle/joint ache and fatigue or the development of an autoimmune condition. There may also be post-treatment complications from the antibiotic treatment such as fungal overgrowth and GI tract dysfunction.
Holistic treatment may include antibiotic treatment in addition to other therapeutics that help to support the body’s innate healing ability. In the case of Lyme, balancing the immune system response and supporting the detoxification process is also generally a focus. Depending on the patient’s individual needs, treatment plans may include medicine from a variety of therapeutics such as:
- Botanical ( herbal/(plant)
- Supplements and IV
- Lifestyle: movement, stress management, sleep, and hydration
Regardless of the medicine used in the treatment plan, Dr. Myra Reed seeks to assist the body in its healing. The goals will be to provide what the body needs to thrive, strengthen the immune system, assist the body in detoxifying itself, and stimulate the innate healing ability.
People all over the world are successfully treated for Lyme using various approaches. If you suspect you have Lyme, check with Dr. Myra Reed to arrange testing and to discuss treatment options.
Dr. Myra Reed is a certified International Lyme and Associated Disease Society trained physician. ILADS.org
LymeDisease.org. “About Ticks and Lyme Disease.” Accessed September 8, 2022. https://www.lymedisease.org/lyme-basics/ticks/about-ticks/
CDC. “How Many People Get Lyme Disease? | CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, January 13, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/stats/humancases.html
CDC. “Lyme Disease Data and Surveillance | CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, August 29, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/datasurveillance/index.html
Kugeler, K., et al. “Estimating the Frequency of Lyme Disease Diagnoses, United States, 2010–2018 – Volume 27, Number 2-February 2021 – Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal – CDC.” Accessed September 8, 2022. https://doi.org/10.3201/eid2702.202731
Singh, S. K., and H. J. Girschick. “Lyme Borreliosis: From Infection to Autoimmunity.” Clinical Microbiology and Infection: The Official Publication of the European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases 10, no. 7 (July 2004): 598–614. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-0691.2004.00895.x
CDC. “Diagnosis and Testing of Lyme Disease | CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, May 21, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/diagnosistesting/index.html
Wonk, Lyme Policy. “MyLymeData Viz – What Alternative Lyme Disease Treatments Work?” LymeDisease.Org (blog), January 7, 2019. https://www.lymedisease.org/mylymedata-alternative-lyme-disease-treatment/
Lyme Disease Protection: Prevent Tick Bites
The best protection against Lyme Disease is to not get bitten. This includes knowing how to protect your skin and clothing to repel ticks, how to properly scan for ticks that have latched on, and how to remove a tick. Mostly, time is of the essence when it comes to removing a tick you find on the skin–yours or a pet. Therefore, if removed promptly, there is a significantly reduced likelihood that the tick can transmit the infection.
Protect Yourself From Tick Bites
- Wear clothing that covers the limbs during hikes, gardening, time spent in parks, etc. Light-colored clothing makes it easier to spot ticks.
- Treat clothing and gear with tick repellants. There are many types of repellents recommended by the EPA and CDC. Accordingly, Dr. Myra Reed can guide you on which repellent product would be best for you, especially if you have a skin condition that might be aggravated by chemicals in repellants and prefer a more natural product. You will want to apply repellant properly to yourself and children.
- Walk in the center of trails and walkways in wooded areas.
- Watch for signs that indicate high tick activity such as an overabundance of deer and reconsider your activities in light of that information.
- Check yourself, children, gear, and pets after spending time outdoors. Thoroughly check the skin around the ears, neck, scalp, underarms, waist and belly button, back of knees, and the ankles. If you had sandals on, check the top and bottom of the feet and between the toes. Be sure to have a family member help with areas you can’t see or reach.
- Check children who are too young to thoroughly check themselves.
- Shower within 2 hours of returning home, after checking for ticks.
- Wash and dry clothing used outdoors in hot water and high heat.
What To Do If a Tick is Attached to Your Skin
Most important, don’t follow any gimmicks or urban legends about removing a tick such as putting nail polish or a recently lit match on the tick. The best way to learn how to remove a tick is to see it being done properly. The Tick Bite Bot (https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/removal/tick-bite-bot.html) walks you through removal of a tick from the skin. Dr. Myra Reed will want to have the tick tested. After you have removed it, you can save it in a jar or baggie. Tick Report (https://www.tickreport.com/) is a place you can send the tick to have it tested. Regardless of whether the tick is tested or not, it’s important to remove the tick immediately, treat and monitor the area, and follow-up with your health care provider.
For an overview of tick repellants visit: Using Insect and Tick Repellants Safely (https://extension.psu.edu/using-insect-and-tick-repellents-safely)
Dr. Myra Reed has trained in Lyme disease treatment and prevention and belongs to the International Lyme and Associated Disease Society (ILADS). For more information on Lyme disease treatment options, contact Dr. Myra to set up a consultation.