Recognize Lyme disease in good time and treat it correctly

Recognize Lyme disease in good time and treat it correctly

Lyme disease is a bacterial disease transmitted by  ticks  . A typical symptom is a circular reddening of the skin, which can occur a few days to a few weeks after the tick bite at the bite site. Other symptoms such as signs of paralysis and sensory disturbances can become noticeable later. If Lyme disease is diagnosed, it is usually treated with  antibiotics . In most cases, the disease can be cured in this way. However, if Lyme disease remains undetected for a long time, consequential damage is possible.

What is Lyme disease?

Borreliosis (also known as Lyme borreliosis or Lyme disease) is the disease most commonly transmitted by ticks in Germany. Lyme disease can trigger a variety of symptoms, some of which can only appear months or years after the tick bite. Possible consequences of Lyme disease affect, among other things, the skin, the heart, the joints and the nerves. With early treatment, Lyme disease is usually curable.

Lyme disease: tick bite as the cause

Lyme disease is caused by spiral-shaped bacteria known as Borrelia (Borrelia burgdorferi). The bacteria can be transmitted by various types of ticks, the most common carrier in Europe is the common wood tick. However, not every tick carries Borrelia – depending on the region, up to a third of ticks are carriers of the pathogen. And not every bite of an infected tick leads to infection. In addition to ticks, blood-sucking insects such as horseflies, mosquitoes or black flies  and  fleas also act as carriers in rare cases  .

Borrelia live in the intestines of ticks, which is why it takes a certain amount of time for the bacteria to get into the  saliva  of the tick and then into the blood of the victim after a tick bite. It is estimated that the transmission of the bacteria does not begin until about twelve to 24 hours after the sting. It is therefore particularly important to remove the tick quickly – if possible within twelve hours. This can often prevent infection.

Lyme disease cannot be transmitted from person to person, so the disease is  not contagious.

Recognize Lyme disease: blush as a symptom

In many cases, Lyme disease causes no symptoms. If symptoms occur, Lyme disease sometimes takes a very different course and often in different phases, which is why a distinction is made between early and late symptoms. Which signs appear when can vary greatly from person to person.

A typical symptom of the early stage of Lyme disease is a ring-shaped reddening of at least five centimeters in diameter around the sting site, the so-called reddening   (erythema migrans) . This rash spreads in a circular pattern over time, the center slowly fading. This symptom can appear three to 30 days after the tick bite – this period is called the incubation period. In some sufferers, the reddening also occurs in an atypical form or is completely absent.

Lyme disease is often difficult to recognize without migratory blush. Because the disease then usually only becomes noticeable through non-specific symptoms. This includes:

If you suffer from such unspecific symptoms after a tick bite, you should always think of Lyme disease.

Other early symptoms of Lyme disease

Another rare early  -stage symptom that occurs primarily in children is Borrelia lymphocytoma.  It presents as a reddish or purple, nodular swelling of the skin. The nodules often appear on the ear, the nipples or in the genital area.

In addition, symptoms such as burning nerve pain (especially at night), signs of paralysis and sensory disturbances can occur. The face is particularly often affected by signs of paralysis. This so-called  early neuroborreliosis  can occur after an incubation period of a few weeks to months.

In rare cases, the bacteria can also cause meningitis or encephalitis. Typical symptoms are headache, fever and neck stiffness.

If the heart is attacked by the pathogen,  cardiac arrhythmia  can occur (Lyme carditis). In rare cases, the eyes can also be affected ( ophthalmoborreliosis ). Possible signs include  conjunctivitis  or other forms of  eye inflammation  (keratitis or uveitis) and  retinal detachment .

Late effects: Consequential damage in the late stage

Inflammation in the joints (Lyme arthritis) is typical of the late symptoms of delayed Lyme disease, which can appear after many months or years. The knees are particularly often affected, less often the elbow or ankle joints.

In addition to the joints, the skin (acrodermatitis chronica atrophicans) and the nerves can also show damage. The skin on the inside of the legs, arms, nose, toes or fingers becomes thin and turns bluish. If the central or peripheral nervous system is affected as a consequential damage, this is referred to as late Lyme neuroborreliosis. These symptoms only develop in the rarest of cases, they can lead to gait and bladder disorders.

Diagnosis is not always easy

If the typical erythema is present around the sting site, this one symptom is usually sufficient to start Lyme disease therapy.

If there is no circular redness, the test for antibodies in the blood can be done in different ways, which are usually carried out step by step. However, these  blood values  ​​from the various blood tests are not always clear. Because even if specific antibodies against Borrelia are present, this does not mean that Lyme disease is the cause of the acute symptoms. Crucial blood values ​​in the test for Lyme disease are  immunoglobulin  M (IgM) and immunoglobulin G (IgG).

Other methods that can be used to diagnose Lyme disease include an examination of the cerebrospinal fluid and an examination of the synovial fluid.

treatment of Lyme disease

Since Lyme disease is caused by bacteria, the disease can generally be treated well with the administration of antibiotics. This is especially true when the disease is still in its early stages. The earlier treatment is given, the higher the probability that consequential damage can be prevented. Antibiotics used are usually  doxycycline  or  amoxicillin .

If the disease goes undetected over a long period of time, this usually makes treatment much more difficult. It is often necessary to administer antibiotics over several weeks – sometimes also as an infusion – in order to achieve successful treatment. Even with successful treatment, the disease can leave damage.

Depending on the type, duration and severity of Lyme disease, the antibiotics are usually used for a  period of five to 30 days  .

Attention:  A single infection with Borrelia does not make you immune to the bacteria. So there can always be new infections.

Chronic Lyme disease

Despite treatment, some of those affected report symptoms such as memory disorders,  tiredness  or muscle and joint pain months or years after a tick bite. These symptoms are sometimes referred to as chronic Lyme disease or post-Lyme syndrome. However, this is not an officially recognized diagnosis and it is controversial whether the clinical picture is actually due to the late effects of a tick bite.

prevent Lyme disease

Unfortunately, there is no vaccination against Lyme disease. In order to effectively prevent Lyme disease, you should therefore protect yourself from tick bites. Ticks primarily live in grass, bushes and forests. Infection usually occurs during activities in nature, such as running, hiking or gardening.

You can protect yourself from a tick bite with the following tips:

  • Cover your skin with clothing as much as possible. Ideally wear light, long tops and pants. Tuck pant legs into socks or shoes when walking through the grass.
  • Wear light-colored, smooth clothing if possible. Crawling ticks can be recognized more quickly on this.
  • Wear sturdy shoes for excursions into nature and avoid flip-flops, sandals and other open-toed shoes.
  • Spray yourself with a tick repellent when going out into nature. The remedy cannot prevent a tick bite 100 percent, but it offers a certain protection for about two to three hours.

Be especially careful during tick season

Despite all protective measures, it can happen that a tick bites you. That’s why you should check your body thoroughly after outdoor activities. You should be particularly careful during the tick season from March to October. But caution is also required during the rest of the year, because occasionally tick bites can also occur in the cold season. Lyme disease occurs more frequently in the period from June to August.

If you find a tick on you, remove it as soon as possible to reduce the risk of infection. You can find tips on how to remove ticks properly here . A preventive administration of antibiotics to prevent Lyme disease after a tick bite is not recommended from a medical point of view.

Lyme disease and TBE

Lyme disease and  tick -borne encephalitis  (FSME) are both diseases that are transmitted by ticks. However, while vaccination against TBE is possible, there is no such protection against Lyme disease.

A TBE vaccination is particularly advisable for people who live or go on vacation in a TBE risk area. Vaccination is the only way to prevent the disease. Because the transmission of the TBE virus begins immediately after the tick bite. Thus, removing the tick quickly can prevent Lyme disease, but not TBE.

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