There’s a lot of concerning news out there about tick-borne
diseases like Lyme disease that cause fatigue, muscle pain, and fever. If they aren’t
treated promptly, they can sometimes cause serious, chronic health issues. So if
you are suffering from fatigue
and you don’t know why, it’s worth considering whether the culprit could be Lyme
or something like it.
What causes Lyme disease?
Black-legged ticks, also known as “deer ticks,” are the prime culprits of carrying
Lyme disease, and the infection is most common in the northeastern and north central
The bacterium that causes Lyme disease, Borrelia burgdorferi, is so widespread
in parts of the country that healthcare providers will now test for it — and the
other, lesser-known tick-borne diseases, some of which have similar symptoms — in
patients complaining of fatigue with no other obvious causes.
If you have a tick bite…
- Remove the tick IMMEDIATELY. Use tweezers, not your fingers, and be careful not
to crush the tick when you grasp it.
- Pull straight up with even pressure. Don’t twist or yank, as this may leave the
tick’s head or mouth in your skin to cause infection.
- Clean the wound and your hands immediately with alcohol, iodine or soap and water.
- Preserve the tick in alcohol or a sealed plastic bag, or flush it down the toilet
to dispose of it.
- Follow up with a healthcare practitioner if you develop symptoms.
- Crush the tick in your fingers either before or after removing it.
- Apply a match or other hot object to the tick to induce it to detach (it doesn’t
- Try folk remedies like nail polish or petroleum jelly to “suffocate” the tick (these
don’t work either).
- Ignore any symptoms and hope they “get better on their own” — early treatment is
Source: CDC, https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/removal/index.html
What do I do if a tick bites me?
So let’s say you go for a hike or camping trip or just out to weed the garden on
a nice summer afternoon. The next day, you discover a tick embedded in your leg.
How will you know if you’re infected?
For any tick bite, it’s important to make sure you remove the tick quickly and correctly
(see sidebar) and clean the wound thoroughly. Preserving the tick in a small jar
of alcohol will help in diagnosis if you develop symptoms.
While not all ticks carry Lyme disease, there are other tick-borne diseases that
can be transmitted to humans by dog or wood ticks.
Is it Lyme disease?
If the tick that bit you carried Lyme disease or other, similar diseases, such as
anaplasmosis and Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF), you may develop symptoms like
chills, fever, headache, fatigue or lethargy, swollen glands, and muscle or joint
With Lyme disease, you often also get a distinctive rash — the well-known “bulls-eye”
rash at the place where the tick bit you — whereas with anaplasmosis, rashes are
very unusual (unless the tick that bit you had Lyme as well!). With RMSF, it’s a
spotted rash, not a bulls-eye. Symptoms of early Lyme infection may develop within
as little as 3 days or as long as 30 days; RMSF symptoms tend to happen within a
week, with the rash developing shortly after fever begins; and anaplasmosis symptoms
usually start within 2 weeks of the bite.
If these three diseases sound pretty similar, it’s because they are. The only real
way to be sure what you have (so you can get the correct treatment) is to get tested
by a healthcare provider. It is very important that you do not dismiss
or ignore early symptoms, as RMSF can sometimes require hospitalization and untreated
Lyme can lead to long-term, permanent damage to the joints and nervous system.
Symptoms of Lyme disease
When not treated right away, Lyme disease has many additional symptoms including:
- Stiffness or twitching in the face or neck
- Blurred vision or light sensitivity
- Tinnitus, ear pain, and decreased or hypersensitive hearing
- Upset stomach, diarrhea or constipation
- Night sweats or chills, palpitations
- Neurological symptoms like prickling, tingling, numbness, or poor balance
- Mood changes (depression/anxiety/panic attacks) and
changes to sleep patterns
- General feeling of unwellness
How to prevent Lyme disease
The best way to avoid getting Lyme disease is to use the common sense guidelines
- If you’re going anywhere there are ticks — which
means anyplace in the woods or tall grass — make it harder for ticks to get in by
covering up with light-colored, long-sleeve shirts, pants, and hat, and tucking
your pants legs into high socks so they can’t climb up the inside of your pants
(light-colored clothing makes it easier to see and remove the ticks).
- Use a natural insect repellent made with essential oils
like citronella, lemongrass, lavender, and eucalyptus, all of which repel ticks,
on your clothes and especially on your neck, face, and hands to keep them off your
- Do a thorough tick check to make sure you get any persistent
ticks off you before they bite — ticks rarely embed themselves into skin
in less than 24 hours, so the sooner you get them off, the less likely you are to
develop a tick-borne ailment.
Keeping ticks off your outside is one step for prevention — but you can also take
preventive measures from the inside. Boost your immune system with regular
exercise, a healthy diet, and your favorite de-stressing techniques to make sure
your body is ready to repel tick-borne bacteria should you be bitten. It is no accident
that those who develop long-term health problems from tick-borne diseases are frequently
those with suppressed immunity — so lower your risk by raising your defenses.
Coping with a tick-borne disease
No matter how diligent you are, it’s still possible to get bitten and infected.
So we have to emphasize that the key to coping with Lyme, RMSF, anaplasmosis and
other less common tick-borne illnesses is to get assessed and treated by your healthcare
provider as soon as possible. Pay attention to your symptoms and don’t wait — the
sooner you get treatment, the less likely you are to develop chronic symptoms.
Even if the worst happens and you find yourself dealing with chronic Lyme disease
symptoms, don’t give up hope. There are many options to reduce inflammation in your
joints and muscles that cause pain. Many of the options we use to address
fatigue and joint painwork well
for Lyme disease.