After a cold, dreary winter, summer is finally in sight and many of us can’t wait to start spending more time outside. But there are risks to be aware of when you’re hanging out outdoors, even if you’re not a nature fanatic who spends every summer weekend hiking — like Lyme disease, an illness transmitted through tick bites. The months of May, June, and July are high-risk months for developing the illness, especially if you live or vacation in certain parts of the country. According to the CDC, 96 percent of Lyme disease cases occur in the Northeast and upper Midwest.
Unfortunately, no matter how careful we are, this illness can affect anyone. The tick bites that cause Lyme are typically painless, so most people who’ve been bitten don’t even know it — which is why being aware of all the symptoms of Lyme disease is so important. It’s a good idea to check your body for ticks at the end of each day that includes outdoor activity and, if you have a pet who spends time outdoors, be vigilant about checking your furry friend for ticks as well. Although studies haven’t confirmed that pet owners are at a higher risk for developing Lyme disease, it’s best that we make sure that both we and our pets are tick-free before we call it a day.
Here are nine symptoms of Lyme disease you should know about.
1. A Bullseye-Shaped Rash
One of the most common symptoms associated with Lyme disease is a rash in the shape of a bullseye; these photos from the CDC show what some of the typical rashes look like. The “classic” rash is circular, with a “central clearing that slowly expands.” Others don’t take on the bullseye form — they may appear as lesions, oval-shaped plaques, or bluish rashes without a central clearing. Any sort of skin rash is cause for concern, especially if it’s accompanied by other symptoms.
Although the rash is often considered the hallmark symptom of Lyme disease, it’s extremely important to remember that not everyone with Lyme disease develops a rash. In fact, various studies have reached vastly different conclusions about this topic, estimating that anywhere between 27 and 80 percent of sufferers develop the rash. Regardless of which number is correct, we do know that not everyone with Lyme disease has it — so even if your skin looks normal, don’t let that deter you from seeking a doctor’s advice if you exhibit other symptoms.
2. Flu-like Symptoms
Many early symptoms of Lyme disease are flu-like — fever and chills, fatigue, nausea, joint pain, swollen lymph nodes, nausea, and aching muscles. As a result, the illness is frequently dismissed or misdiagnosed as the flu (especially if the rash isn’t present).
One to four months after the initial infection, Lyme disease sufferers enter stage two of the illness. Stage one symptoms intensify, while new symptoms emerge. If a patient does have the rash, it may spread to other parts of the body during stage two.
3. Visual Disturbances
It seems like no part of the body is left untouched by Lyme, including the eyes, which can sustain damage to their deep tissue. Some of the visual symptoms include light sensitivity, “cloudy” vision, image delays, and moving object illusion. There’s also “textual bombardment,” which makes it nearly impossible to read more than two or three consecutive sentences without losing focus.
The most common visual symptom is “floaters,” which means you’ll see lines, dots, or streaks in various colors.
4. Heart Problems
Heart palpitations, chest pain, and shortness of breath are all symptoms of stage two Lyme disease, according to the National Library of Medicine.
5. Nerve Pain
Pain or numbness of the nerves is another red flag that you may be in stage two of Lyme disease.
6. Bell’s Palsy
Bell’s palsy, which is caused by inflammation of the facial nerve, can be a neurological complication of Lyme disease. The condition causes one side of your face to droop and it comes on extremely suddenly (even overnight). Facial drooping is the primary symptom — it may even make it hard to close your eye on the affected side of your face. Other symptoms of Bell’s palsy include drooling, loss of taste, numbness in the affected side of the face, and high sensitivity to sound. Although Bell’s palsy can occur on its own, it may be a good idea to ask for a Lyme disease test if you develop the condition.
Months or even years after the infection, symptoms of late disseminated Lyme disease can emerge. The hallmark symptoms of this stage are chronic muscle and joint problems — such as numbness, muscle weakness, abnormal muscle movements, and joint swelling. If the illness continues to go untreated, more complications can occur.