It is that wonderful time of year that most of us are outside mowing our lawns, planting and mulching our flower gardens, trimming our hedges and raking up the remnants of last years leaves. While I am well known for expounding on the therapeutic value of gardening and other outdoor activities, I am also very cognizant about some of the hazards that these pursuits might entail. The month of May is Lyme disease awareness month so today I am going to focus on this disabling disease and dealing with the nasty tick that causes it.
The symptoms of Lyme disease can appear quickly or gradually over time, and they are incredibly varied and can wax and wane. The first physical signs of Lyme infection are often flu-like symptoms – sore throat, headaches, congestion, stiffness, etc. – so many people, including doctors, dismiss the symptoms as the flu or the common cold. During its nymph stage, a tick is only about the size of a period on a sentence. Many people are infected by nymph ticks, but do not suspect Lyme disease because they do not recall being bitten. In fact, 50 percent of people infected with Lyme do not remember being bitten and less than 50 percent of people will get any over-emphasized rash.
Do you suspect you have contracted Lyme disease? If so, there are specific steps you should take to improve your chances of receiving a proper diagnosis.
• Keep the tick for examination. If you discover a tick on your body and remove it before visiting your doctor, keep the tick for future examination. It is actually easier to test a tick for Lyme infection than to test a person. If you discover a tick, do not wait to have the tick tested or to develop symptoms. Seek treatment immediately.
• Take photos of your rash. A spreading or circular rash (sometimes referred to as a called a “bull’s-eye” rash) is a sign of Lyme infection, but only a small subset of the Lyme bacteria will cause a rash of any kind. Lyme rashes usually only last a few days or weeks, so it is important to get photos of the rash area so you can show them to your doctor after the rash has disappeared.
• Make note of common Lyme symptoms. There are certain symptoms that are characteristic of Lyme disease. Be sure to inform your doctor if you have experienced the following: strange rashes, flu-like symptoms, sore or stiff joints/bones and muscle cramping.
• Try to remember when and how you were infected. If you have spent time in well-known tick habitats your risk of contracting Lyme is higher. Knowing when you may have been exposed to Lyme will help your doctor to diagnose and treat the infection.
• Keep a timeline of your symptoms. Lyme is difficult to diagnose because of its many symptoms. Keeping a record of your symptoms can help your doctor to assess your condition and eliminate other potential illnesses.
A senior’s immune system is less effective the older they get and their body typically responds much slower to treatment. This presents a greater risk for them, especially if Lyme disease is misdiagnosed during the first stage. If Lyme disease is not cured with antibiotics, it becomes increasingly difficult for doctors to find a cure for seniors. Stay tuned next week for some prevention tips.