What Is Lyme Disease?

Each year almost 500,000 people are diagnosed and treated for Lyme disease in the United States. Lyme disease, also known as Lyme Borealis, is caused by deer ticks who bite humans and transmit this bacteria in the process. The numbers and range of this disease have grown dramatically in the past decade. Most cases can be cured with a 2-to-4-week treatment course of oral antibiotics. However, this disease sometimes goes undetected for months or years and leads to an array of physical, neurological, and psychological symptoms. For reasons unclear, 10% to 20% of people who contract this disease report ongoing or intermittent symptoms after completing antibiotic treatment. These unfortunate patients suffer with symptoms of pain, fatigue, and thinking difficulties that can last for months or years after treatment.

Mental Health Problems from Lyme Disease

The public has progressed beyond viewing Lyme disease as a small illness that merely causes a rash. This illness can lead to severe cardiac, rheumatologic, and neurologic problems for its victims. But, even beyond this, Lyme disease can cause severe mental health problems as well. This disease is often misdiagnosed and can immediately lead to depression in patients who are perplexed by overpowering symptoms of fatigue and little explanation from healthcare providers who may not suspect this bacterium because there was no evidence of a rash. In some cases, people will be bit by small nymph ticks and not even realize that this chain of events has transpired. The mental health problems resulting from Lyme disease, in concert with the physical symptoms, will often greatly reduce a person’s quality-of-life, especially if left untreated.

According to the APA who cited a recent study from the Columbia University Irving Medical Center, patients who received the hospital diagnosis of Lyme disease have a 28% higher rate of mental disorders and were twice as likely to have attempted suicide post infection than individuals without a Lyme diagnosis. Other patients have reported panic attacks, “brain fog,” and other cognitive difficulties that can impair a person’s concentration and difficulties with reading. Depression is also common in severe Lyme disease cases due to the array of physical, neurologic, and rheumatologic symptoms. As a clinician, I have seen patients suffer tremendous mental health difficulties and personality changes related to Lyme disease. In addition to antibiotic treatments, patients definitely need understanding from their doctors, family support, and in some cases, counseling to assist with these mental health aspects.

Tips on How to Prevent Ticks and Lyme Disease

Like many things in life, preventative measures are preferable to fighting the Lyme bacteria once it’s entered your body. In your outdoor activities, especially during the most susceptible season which is May and June, there are some precautions that can be taken to avoid this nasty bug.

  1. Stay on Trail: In addition to hiking safety protocols, it’s crucial to stay on the trail when hiking in the woods as it relates to tick prevention. Deer ticks like grassy and brushy and wooded areas. If you stay on the trail this eliminates a percentage of the risk.
  2. Use Tick Repellents: The classic tick repellent is Deet which is found in “Off.” However, there are others that are less smelly that you can rub on your skin like a lotion, such as Picardin. If you like an all-natural solution, you could try oil of lemon eucalyptus. Also, there is a product called Permethrin which can applied to clothing and last for up to 6 washes. This chemical is said to kill ticks on contact. Ex-Officio also makes products that are tick repellent, such as hiking pants, shirts, bandannas, etc. They also have a robust number of washes that you can submit clothing to while still maintaining the effectiveness of the saturated repellent. Follow the directions and precautions carefully on any of these products.
  3. Do Tick Checks: After spending time outdoors, it’s recommended that you check your body thoroughly for ticks. You may need to get a family member or friend to help you with places that you can’t see. Use discretion, of course.
  4. Take Hot Showers: A hot shower after time outdoors with a thorough washing can eliminate ticks that may be roaming on the skin. It can take several hours for a tick to embed itself into the skin and this is a helpful preventative measure.
  5. Check Anything Suspicious with Your Doctor: If you see anything resembling a bull’s-eye rash or evidence of an embedded tick, consult with your physician immediately. Timing is of the essence as there are powerful antibiotics that can help at the onset of the contraction of the Lyme bacterium.

A risk of contracting Lyme Disease has become a widespread reality to many who enjoy nature. Taking the above precautions can help in braving the outdoors with more peace of mind. Hopefully, the prevention, accurate diagnosis, and treatment of Lyme Disease will continue to progress so that many can continue to enjoy the physical and mental health benefits of exploring our outdoor environments without concern about these little bugs.