Once summer rolls around, and you find yourself hiking in the woods or walking in the park, it's important to be on the lookout for ticks, as well as the early signs of Lyme disease. "Lyme disease is a bacterial infection primarily transmitted by deer ticks and black-legged ticks," says Dr. Nancy Troyano, PhD, entomologist and Director of Technical Education and Training for the family of pest control brands Western Exterminator, Presto-X, and Ehrlich. Lyme disease can cause a slew of nasty health issues, so it's important to be informed and do what you can to prevent the disease.
If you've been outside — especially in the woods, or in grassy areas — definitely do a "tick check," or close inspection of your skin, as soon as you get home. "It’s essential to look closely, too," says Troyano. "Tick nymphs may resemble a 'walking freckle,' so stare at your arms and legs for a few minutes. Use a mirror to look at your back and other areas of your body that are not readily visible." And definitely hop in the shower.
If you find a tick that's already biting you, remove it carefully and quickly. "Every minute the tick is attached increases the chance of pathogen transmission (should the tick be infected)," says Troyano. "Use tweezers to grasp the tick by the head, as close to the skin as possible, and pull straight up/out." She warns against squeezing the tick's abdomen, since that can push toxins into the bite. She also recommends saving the tick in a plastic bag to show your doctor, since different types of ticks cause different illnesses.
If you've been bitten, or if you're experiencing any of the signs of Lyme disease below, be sure to talk to your doctor ASAP. There are definitely things he or she can do to help you feel better.
1. You Have A Red Bullseye Mark On Your Skin
If you spot a weird rash on your skin, definitely point it out to your doctor. "The most classic sign of Lyme infection is an expanding, circular red rash called erythema migrans (EM)," says Dr. Jorge Parada, a medical advisor for the National Pest Management Association. "The early localized EM rash is a flat or slightly raised expanding red spot at the site of the tick bite with a clear area in the center, giving it a 'bullseye' appearance."
2. It's Been A Minute Since You Felt Well
You can chalk flu-like symptoms up to any number of things (like an actual flu). But if you've been feeling kinda crappy lately, it may be an early sign of Lyme disease. "People may complain of a general ill feeling and lack of energy," says Parada. "Often there are headaches and stiff neck."
3. You Have A Fever
Along with your lack of energy and headache, be on the lookout for more flu-like symptoms, such as a fever and chills. "Fever and chills, swollen lymph nodes, and muscle pains are also common," Parada says. Basically, Lyme disease can make you feel all sorts of rundown.
4. Knee Pain Is Suddenly A Thing
If you've never had knee pain but suddenly have knee pain, take note. "Symptoms of tick-borne illness typically occur within a few days to a few weeks after a tick bite," Troyano says. "You should contact your doctor ASAP if you experience any unusual symptoms such as a fever, rash, or joint pain."
5. Your Emotions Have Drastically Changed
Many Lyme suffers say Lyme disease messes with their emotions, leaving them feeling hyper-emotional, depressed, or even angry. "There's even a term 'Lyme rage' because of how often that happens," says nutritionist and Lyme disease expert Arianna Resnick. Just another strange symptom that may not be what you first think.
6. It Feels Like You Injured Yourself
Again, Lyme disease can lead to joint pain, which may cause you to think you hurt yourself even when you didn't. "Lyme eats up the collagen in your joints and you're left being 'hurt' without experiencing an actual injury," Resnick says. "This is beyond standard joint pain."
7. You Just Don't Feel Like Yourself
If Lyme is starting to affect your body, you might start to feel a bit off. And you might even notice some physical changes. "When I got [the disease], I gained 20 pounds in a month because the Lyme killed my thyroid," Resnick says. "My thyroid issue was a symptom, not the cause."
8. Your Doctor Can't Figure Out What's Wrong
If you don't feel well, and the usual tests aren't revealing much, ask your doctor to check for Lyme. "It's also important to understand that Lyme disease can mimic many disease symptoms because it can affect any part of the body," Morgan Statt, a health and safety advocate for ConsumerSafety.org, tells Bustle. "It's difficult to diagnose, so the earlier you recognize the symptoms, the better."
9. The Glands In Your Neck Are Swollen
Another sign of Lyme disease? Swollen lymph nodes. These tender areas can be felt in your neck, armpits, and groin. And, again, can be accompanied by other "ill" feelings. "Other symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, muscle aches, conjunctivitis, swollen lymph nodes or simply feeling tired," says board-certified pediatrician Jarret Patton, MD.
10. You've Been Getting A Lot Of Headaches
While not one of the earliest signs, Lyme disease can eventually present symptoms that seem a lot like meningitis. "More advanced early signs of Lyme Disease can mimic meningitis with headaches, light sensitivity, and a stiff neck," Patton says. Scary, but true.
11. One Side Of Your Face Starts To Droop
If your cheek feels weak or you lose the ability to move one side of your face, talk to a doctor ASAP. As Patton tells me, Lyme can also cause a type of facial nerve paralysis commonly known as Bell's Palsy, which will cause one side of your face to droop.
Lyme disease is truly a tough one to deal with, as it has many strange and debilitating symptoms. That's why the sooner you can figure out what's wrong and seek treatment, the better off you'll be.