Lyme Disease and Children - Could This Be a Child You Know?

If nothing else about this blog catches your interest, I would have to think this post will at least touch your heart. The topic – Lyme Disease and its impact on children.

Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease among children in the United States; the incidence of Lyme disease is believed to be higher among children than adults. As an adult we can explain our symptoms fairly well, but a child doesn't have much of a history of wellness prior to becoming ill. How are they supposed to know what “normal” is? What normal tiredness feels like?

A small lucky few, children and adults, are diagnosed with Lyme Disease early, generally by the bulls-eye rash. When this rash is present, many physicians are open to prescribing a month of antibiotics. It's when the rash is not seen that Lyme is overlooked.

Research varies but a safe estimate of the percentage of people who actually demonstrate with a bull-eye rash is somewhere around 15-30%. That leaves us with a huge percentage of people who doctors are turning a blind eye to. People who may also carry a co-infection (which is not treated with the same antibiotics as Lyme nor does it cause a bulls-eye rash) and the children who have carried Lyme for years, and in some cases, since birth. What's happening to them? Unfortunately, for many physicians, no rash means no treatment! Don't doctors read research articles anymore??

Most physicians admit that Lyme can be hard to diagnose in children. They report that symptoms are often vague or seen as a learning disability or developmental delay and therefore didn't “red flag” them to test for Lyme or co-infections. To me this is an excuse for lack of education – I'm not a doctor but I have educated myself enough to know that if any of the following symptoms exist, Lyme should at least be ruled out.

I'm going to focus this post more on the neurological impact than “typical symptoms” (such as joint pain or fatigue) since I feel the neurological symptoms are more frequently undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. Please note that sometimes children and adults only demonstrate with one or two symptoms while others have multiple.

According to research, children are bitten by ticks more frequently around the head and neck, making them more vulnerable to brain, heart and central nervous system infections. They also are at risk for contracting Lyme in utero.

How many parents have I talked to that have assumed that their child was “delayed” , “learning disabled”, “has ADHD”, “is depressed”, “has anxiety” or “just doesn't try” only to find out years later that these symptoms were caused by Lyme. I'm sad to say WAY TOO MANY!

The resulting neurological symptoms of Lyme disease are often misdiagnosed. Below is a partial list:

  • severe fatigue unrelieved by rest

  • insomnia

  • headaches

  • nausea, abdominal pain

  • impaired concentration

  • poor short-term memory

  • inability to sustain attention (often misdiagnosed as ADHD)

  • difficulty with executive functioning (organization, higher-level thinking and concepts)

  • difficulty thinking and expressing thoughts

  • difficulty reading and writing (may be diagnosed with a learning disability or processing disorder)

  • being overwhelmed by schoolwork

  • difficulty making decisions

  • confusion

  • uncharacteristic behavior

  • outbursts and mood swings

  • fevers/chills

  • joint pain

  • dizziness
  • noise and light sensitivity
  • change in vision (acuity, tracking and light sensitivity
Congenital or gestational Lyme disease has been reported in some children who were infected in utero or by breastfeeding. In these patients suspicion was raised by Lyme Specialists when the child demonstrated with:

  • frequent fevers

  • increased incidence of ear and throat infections

  • increased incidence of pneumonia

  • irritability

  • joint and body pain

  • poor muscle tone

  • gastroesophageal reflux

  • small windpipe (tracheomalacia)

  • cataracts and other eye problems

  • developmental delay

  • learning disabilities

  • psychiatric problems – tantrums, anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive tendencies, etc
  • In more severe cases, stroke, cerebral palsy-like symptoms, inability to speak or control motor movements such as walking, loss of speech and death have been reported.
It's important to remember that symptoms can present themselves very differently from person to person. Some children have difficulty with concentration while another child has great attending skills but is irritable. The variation of symptoms is what makes this disease hard to define and not “textbook”. Please watch the short video below to open your mind to how big this problem really is!!