Does your child play in or around wooded or grassy areas? Is your little one suffering from skin rashes and flu-like symptoms? Are you worried or unsure about his symptoms? Have you heard about Lyme disease in children and how it affects them? Are you looking for ways to help your child overcome Lyme disease?
If you are looking for answers to any of the questions above, you should consider reading our post. Scroll down to learn all about the symptoms, causes, treatments, diagnoses, and preventive measures of Lyme disease and how it affects children.
What Is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi. It is mostly found in animals like mice and deer. The ixodes ticks, which are also known as deer ticks or black-legged ticks, feed on the blood of these small animals and harbor the bacteria. When these ticks bite humans, it can trigger the conditions that lead to Lyme disease.
Lyme disease is a common ailment, which affects many children in and around Europe and North America. People who live near the countryside or children who travel to grassy and wooded areas are most susceptible to contracting Lyme disease (1).
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The most common cause of Lyme disease is the infection that is carried by deer ticks. Deer ticks are brown in color, and the young ones are extremely tiny, sometimes only as big as the head of a pin. Their size makes it quite difficult for your child to spot them, especially in grassy or heavily wooded areas.
The first part of the infection begins when the child gets bitten by an infected deer tick. Once the bite happens, the bacteria begin entering the child’s skin through the opening in the bite. Gradually, the bacteria reach the child’s bloodstream. For the infection to occur, the tick has to attach itself to the child’s skin for around 36 to 48 hours. In case you see a deer tick on your child’s body that appears swollen, it could mean that the tick has been there long enough to spread the bacteria. In case you do notice a tick on your child’s body, make sure to remove it immediately so as to prevent any chance of an infection. If you are uncertain about how long the tick has been there, take your child to a doctor immediately (2).
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Symptoms Of Lyme Disease In Children:
The lyme disease symptoms in children can differ for every child. In most cases, the disease will affect more than one system of the child’s body. Some of the organs affected by the disease include the skin, the nervous system, and the joints. The symptoms of Lyme disease will vary during the early stages and through the later stages. Here is a quick look at the different symptoms that your child will go through in the early and the later stages:
The Early Signs:
Here are some of the early signs of lyme disease in child that will show up within a month after contracting the disease:
As part of the first symptom, you will notice a small red bump kind of rash that will appear at the exact spot where the tick bit the child.
- In many cases, the rash is also a natural reaction after the child has been bitten by the tick, and it may not always necessarily mean that it is a symptom of the Lyme disease.
- If the rash disappears in the first few days after it appears, it is most certainly not Lyme disease. Just to be safe, you can still speak to your child’s doctor about the symptoms. If your child does have Lyme disease, the red rash will slowly start to grow bigger and will resemble something like a bull’s eye pattern. In such a case, there will be a red outer ring that will surround the clear area. The rash is known as erythema migrans and is a big sign of Lyme disease.
- In some cases, the child may develop the rash on multiple areas on the body.
[ Read: Causes Of Tics In Children ]
2. Symptoms Like The Flu:
Along with the rash, your child will also experience various symptoms that will be very similar to that of the flu.
- Some of the most common symptoms of Lyme disease that will be similar to the symptoms of flu are fever, chills, pain in the body, headache as well as fatigue.
- In most cases, these symptoms will be present along with the rash.
The Later Signs:
Here are some of the later signs of lyme disease in children that will show up after many weeks or even months after the child has become infected. Also, there are strong chances that the rash will also spread to other parts of the body.
1. Pain In The Joints:
In case of Lyme disease, your child may suddenly come down with a severe case of joint pain. It is one of the most common symptoms of the later stages of Lyme disease.
- Your child may suddenly start complaining about pain in the joints, and you may also notice some swelling in the affected area.
- Your child’s knees are most likely to be affected the most, and the pain can also keep shifting from one joint to the other.
[ Read: Treating Joint Pain In Kids ]
2. Neurological Issues:
In some cases, the symptoms of Lyme disease can show up after weeks and months, but in some cases, they may show up years after that the child was infected with the tick bite.
- In such a case, it is possible that the child, in later childhood years or even in adulthood, will experience inflammation in the membranes that surround the brain. Such a condition is known as meningitis.
- The child may also suffer a temporary paralysis of any one side of the face and the condition is known as Bell’s palsy.
- In addition to the above symptoms, the child may also experience a kind of numb feeling or weakness in the limbs or have difficulty in muscle movement.
[ Read: Symptoms Of Meningitis In Children ]
Less Common Symptoms:
In addition to the symptoms we touched on, there are some more symptoms that are not common, but can still show up in children. If you do feel that your child has suffered a bite, keep your eyes open for the following symptoms, which can show up a few weeks after the onset of the infection:
- Inflammation in the eye.
- Inflammation in the liver, which is a condition known as hepatitis.
- Problems in the heart, in which case the heart beat will become irregular and can be either too fast or too slow. The condition will not last more than a few days or weeks.
- Extreme feeling of fatigue even when your child has rested and slept well (3).
[ Read: Types Of Hepatitis In Children ]
Factors That Increase The Chances Of Infection:
The place where your child lives or spends a major part of time will influence the chances of a risk of contracting Lyme disease. In addition, the kind of activities your child loves to do and often indulges in can also increase the chances of getting infected with Lyme disease. Here are some of the most common situations that could increase the chances of Lyme disease in child:
1. Spending Time In Grassy Or Woody Areas:
- A child who spends a lot of time at grassy or woody areas is at a high risk of coming in direct contact with deer ticks that are infected.
- During their early life stage, a deer tick feeds only on mice and other rodents, who are some of the most widespread carriers of the bacteria of Lyme disease.
- Once the infected deer tick come in contact with the child, the infection spreads easily.
2. Skin Being Exposed:
- A child who wears clothes that expose a lot of skin is also at a high risk of getting infected with Lyme disease.
- Deer ticks are able to attach themselves easily to skin that is bare and exposed. To keep your child protected and to decrease the chance of getting infected with Lyme disease, make sure that your child wears full sleeved clothes and pants.
- Sometimes, ticks can also attach themselves to pets which can then bring the infected deer ticks in the house, which can then infect the children. Make sure that if you have pets at home, you do not let them go into areas that are grassy or woody.
3. Not Removing Ticks On Time Or Not Removing Them Properly:
- One of the main ways in which the bacteria can enter your child’s bloodstream is if the deer tick stays attached to your child’s skin for at least 36 to 48 hours.
- In case the deer tick is removed from the child’s skin within the first two days, it will significantly reduce the chances of getting infected with Lyme disease.
Complications Of Lyme’s Disease In Children:
Sometimes, it is possible that a child with lyme disease can contract further health complications. In case it is not treated in time or not treated properly, Lyme disease can result in the following complications:
- Chronic inflammation of the joints, the condition of Lyme arthritis mostly affects the joints of the knees.
- Various neurological symptoms such as neuropathy and facial palsy.
- Various defects in cognitive abilities, such as problems with memory and partial loss of memory.
- Irregularities in the rhythm of the heart, in which case the heart will either start beating slower than it normally does or will beat faster than it normally does.
Before The Doctor’s Appointment:
Once you have noticed any symptoms of Lyme disease in your child or have seen a deer tick on your child’s body, it is important to seek immediate medical attention. Take your child to a doctor for a proper examination. Depending on your child’s condition and the severity of the infection, the doctor can refer your child to a rheumatologist, to an infectious disease specialist or another specialist who may be able to be of help. While you are getting ready to take your child to the doctor, make sure you take care of the following points to help your doctor evaluate the condition better and faster:
- Check for any symptoms that your child may be experiencing and write them down. You may feel you will remember it easily when you meet the doctor with your child. You can forget or miss some symptom that could turn out to be crucial in identifying and treating the infection.
- Make a list of any recent changes in your child’s life in terms of personal information and feelings. Do make sure that you speak to your child and write down about any stress your child may have been feeling, or any major change that may have affected your child in any way.
- Write down a detailed list of all the medicines that your child is currently taking or has recently taken. Also, make sure that you include the names of any supplements or vitamins that your child takes, even if it is on the advice of a doctor.Of course, the doctor will tell you everything that you need to know about your child’s condition and what you need to do about it. However, here are a few questions that you can proactively ask the doctor to make sure that you have not forgotten to talk about anything that is important. It will also help you remember everything you are supposed to do.
If you feel confused or are not sure that you will be able to follow all instructions just by listening, carry a small notepad and jot down answers to all the following questions:
- What can be the cause of the symptoms that my child is experiencing?
- In case it is not Lyme disease, are there any other causes that could be causing the symptoms? How can you be sure whether it is Lyme disease or not?
- What are the tests that my child will have to go through? How will the tests help and what do the test results mean?
- What is the best way to take care of my child’s condition or infection?
- If our child or we are not very comfortable with the treatment option or approach you are suggesting, are there any other alternatives that we can try? Will these alternatives be as effective as the method you recommended earlier or can there be a scope of some error?
- My child is suffering from some health issues for which he has to take a particular course of medication and has these particular symptoms. How do we take care of his condition?
- Are there any particular restrictions, such as restrictions related to eating, to lifestyle and such that my child has to follow? Just in case there is a mistake, and my child forgets to follow the restriction, what will have to be the next course of action?
- Does my child have to see a specialist? Why and how will it help the infection?
- As an alternative to the medicines that you are recommending for our child, are there any other medicines that we can get for our child? Will they be as effective as the original medicines that you had suggested?
Diagnosing And Treatment Of Lyme Disease In Children:
As many symptoms of Lyme disease do not show up immediately or can also be confused with some other health conditions, it can sometimes be a little difficult to diagnose the condition in your child. After your doctor has spoken to your child and done an initial examination, the following tests will help to confirm the diagnosis.
The tests will provide the most accurate results a few weeks after the infection has set in. Here are some tests your doctor may recommend for your child:
1. The Enzyme Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) Test:
It is the most common test that is used to check for Lyme disease. ELISA will be able to detect any antibodies, but it can sometimes also end up giving a false positive result. Your child’s doctor will most likely prescribe a combination of tests that will help to reach the result of the diagnosis by comparing results from multiple tests. The results from ELISA test will not be extremely helpful in the early stages of the infection. Also, if your child has an extremely pronounced rash that matches the pattern of a rash in Lyme disease, and if you also live in an area where such infection has taken place earlier or which is grassy or woody, your doctor may already reach a diagnosis.
2. The Western Blot Test:
In case the result of the ELISA test comes in as positive, your doctor will suggest a further test known as the Western blot test. It will be done to help confirm the results of the ELISA test.
3. The Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR):
The PCR test will help to check for any bacteria in your child’s DNA through the fluid that is taken as a sample from your child’s infected joint. It is mostly used in cases where your child develops chronic Lyme arthritis. In case your child has symptoms that show up in the nervous system, it can also help to check for persistent infection in the cerebrospinal fluid.
In most cases, your doctor will refer antibiotics to help treat the infection as it will help the recovery to be faster and complete. Here are some ways that your doctor may suggest as a means of treatment for lyme disease in children:
1. Oral Antibiotics:
Administering oral antibiotics is the most common form of treatment in the early stages of Lyme disease. If your child is older than eight, the doctor will recommend an antibiotic called doxycycline and in case your child is younger than eight, the doctor will recommend amoxicillin or cefuroxime. Your doctor will most likely recommend a course of 14 to 21 days to treat the symptoms of Lyme disease.
2. Intravenous Antibiotics:
In case your child suffers from the central nervous system or CNS symptoms, the doctor will typically recommend an intravenous antibiotic treatment option. The antibiotic course will most likely run for about 14 to 28 days. The intravenous antibiotic treatment option helps your child prevent and remove traces of an infection. It may take some time before you do see an actual or a marked change in your child’s condition, as the intravenous antibiotic treatment will show its effect in some time. However, it is important to remember that using an intravenous antibiotic mode of treatment can cause various side effects, so make sure you speak to the doctor about it before the treatment starts. Some of the most common side effects of using an intravenous antibiotic treatment are a decrease in the count of the white blood cells, sudden infection happening with some other antibiotic resistant organism that is not related to Lyme disease at all, a mild or even severe case of diarrhea.
3. Be Aware Of Using Bismacine:
Some alternative medicine practitioners are known to prescribe an injectable compound called bismacine, which is also known as chromacine. The FDA in the US has strictly warned against using the same, as it is high in its content of metal bismuth. Some oral medications do use bismuth to help treat stomach ulcers, but it is not at all recommended in an injectable form. Using it can cause bismuth poisoning that can lead to failure of the heart and the kidney.
In small cases, some children will continue to face some symptoms of the disease even after treatment. If that happens with your child, do speak to the doctor about it.
Has your little one ever contracted Lyme disease? Do you know of some other child who has? What precautions do you take to protect your children from ticks and other insects? Have any special tips? Please share them with us here. We would love to hear from you.
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