Growing up in Washington state, I have fond memories as a kid running through pine, hemlock, and fir trees with my friends, pretending to be hard-core outdoor survivalists. As a ’90s child, staying indoors to play on a tablet wasn’t an option; we hardly had internet at all. Spending afternoons outside was a daily occurrence. In fact, I grew up on my dad’s back, bouncing up and down in a carrier as he hiked me around the west side of the state. One of my best childhood friends would join me on these exploring adventures well into our teens. As we neared our twenties, I noticed a dramatic shift in my friend’s health. She began to ache, lose weight, and seemed tired all of the time. Eventually, she could hardly get out of bed and spent half of her time in a doctor’s office. One day, she received a diagnosis not common to Washington state residents; she had Lyme disease.
Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium transmitted through black-legged ticks, also known as deer ticks. Deer ticks are found in the eastern United States, namely the upper part of the region. Even though deer ticks are commonly found on the East Coast, there are continually cases in almost every state. In 2017 (the last publicly recorded year by the CDC), Washington state had 26 confirmed cases and 11 probable cases. The only state not affected in 2017 was Hawaii.1 Lyme disease skyrockets between the months of May and August, when the weather is warmest, and people are outdoors. Ticks wait for a host with their back legs holding onto grass and their front legs stretched out in a position called “questing”. When a host brushes by, the tick grabs on and embeds itself into its host.2 While deer ticks feed faster than other types of ticks, a tick can stay attached for 3-10 days depending on where it is in its lifecycle.3 Getting bitten by a tick doesn’t mean you have Lyme disease, but you should keep a close eye on a tick bite wound.
Here are 3 signs of Lyme disease you should watch for this summer:
1) You have a bullseye ring rash
One of the most telling signs of a Lyme infection is an erythema migrans (EM) rash. This rash will occur in 70-80% of infected individuals and typically shows up in an average of 7 days after the initial bite, often expanding in size.4 Sometimes this rash resembles the appearance of a bullseye ring. If you notice any type of rash, bullseye or not, at the site of a tick bite call your doctor immediately.
2) Your joints hurt and are swelling
If you notice any joint swelling or pain, especially in the knees, it’s time to make an appointment. Pain can be intermittent in tendons, muscles, and bones as well. Inflammation can even spread to the brain and spinal cord. In some cases, the face can droop on just one side, or both, also known as facial palsy.4
3) You feel like you have the flu
As your body fights any infection, running a fever is a common sign of an internal battle. If you are running a fever, have a headache or neck stiffness, feel dizzy, or even have trouble with your short-term memory, you may have Lyme disease.4 Be sure to call your doctor at the first signs.
How to Prevent Tick Bites
It’s important to remember that you don’t have to find a tick on your body to have a confirmed case of Lyme disease. Many don’t even notice a tick by the time the disease has been transmitted. You can prevent contracting Lyme disease by checking yourself for ticks after you come inside every day, use Environmental Protection Agency registered insect repellant containing DEET, and tumble clothes in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes (more if wet) to kill any possible hiding tick. If you find a tick on your body use tweezers to grab the tick as close to the head as possible, pull upward with an even grip, and clean the bite area when you are done with rubbing alcohol.5
The good news is that Lyme disease is treatable. Enjoy your time outside and take proper precautions when you return to ensure you enjoy a tick-free summer. If you do have Lyme disease, supplements may help to manage and reduce symptoms. Take our free online assessment for a curated supplement and vitamin regimen.