Children with Lyme disease have special issues. Since they can’t always explain what feels wrong, they may just come across as cranky and irritable. They suffer when their bodies hurt, when their illness disrupts their sleep at night, when they struggle in school, when they don’t even feel like playing. They may feel confused, lost and betrayed by parents and teachers who fail to recognize that they are sick and need help.
Mothers and fathers may not understand what the child’s normal baseline is. Is this the “terrible twos” or “the nine-year-old change” or is something really wrong?
Because the symptoms of Lyme disease can be non-specific, vague and changeable, adults may not even realize these children are ill. They may suspect them of making things up to gain attention or to avoid school. Children with Lyme often have trouble in the classroom, because the disease can contribute to learning disabilities and behavioral problems.
Children are especially vulnerable to tick-borne diseases because they are physically low to the ground, where the ticks are. They play in leaves, roll on grass, cuddle with pets and otherwise increase their exposure to ticks.
LymeDisease.org has developed a Lyme disease symptom checklist to help you document your and your children’s exposure to Lyme disease and common symptoms for your healthcare provider. You will receive a report that you can print out and take with you to your next doctor’s appointment.
Lyme pediatric specialist Charles Ray Jones, MD, compiled a list of common symptoms of infection in his young patients:
- severe fatigue unrelieved by rest
- nausea, abdominal pain
- impaired concentration
- poor short-term memory
- inability to sustain attention
- difficulty thinking and expressing thoughts
- difficulty reading and writing
- being overwhelmed by schoolwork
- difficulty making decisions
- uncharacteristic behavior
- outbursts and mood swings
- joint pain
- noise and light sensitivity
Among Jones’ patients, only half have had a known tick attachment. Fewer than 10% have had an erythema migrans rash (bull’s-eye).
Dr. Jones has also documented congenital, or gestational, Lyme disease in some children he thinks were infected in utero or by breastfeeding. In these patients his suspicion is raised when the child has:
- frequent fevers
- increased incidence of ear and throat infections
- increased incidence of pneumonia
- joint and body pain
- poor muscle tone
- gastroesophageal reflux
- small windpipe (tracheomalacia)
- cataracts and other eye problems
- developmental delay
- learning disabilities
- psychiatric manifestations
If you believe your child may have Lyme or other tick-borne diseases, we highly recommend that he or she be evaluated by an ILADS-affiliated health care provider.
Downloads from Lyme specialists:
Dr. Charles Ray Jones is the world’s foremost expert on pediatric tick-borne diseases, having treated more than 12,000 children. Click here for his paper, “Rationale on Long Term Antibiotic Therapy in Treating Lyme Disease.”
Dorothy Pietrucha, MD, a pediatric neurologist, presents an overview of diagnosis and treatment with case histories in “Neurological Manifestations of Lyme Disease in Children.”
Ann Corson, MD, board-certified family practitioner, has a full time Lyme and tick-borne disease practice in Chester County, PA, with a special interest in children and pregnant women.View her slideshows on pediatric Lyme disease, neuropsychiatric presentations of Lyme disease, and Lyme and Pregnancy:
Psychotherapist Sandy Berenbaum, LCSW, BCD, has devoted much of her career to children and adolescents with Lyme disease. Click here to read her story “Kids and Lyme Disease – How It Affects Their Learning.”
Pennsylvania psychiatrist Virgina Sherr, MD, has treated many children with Lyme disease. Read her poignant story of two different young people with Lyme disease who ended up in jail: “The Pillaging of Personalities: Our Lost Kids are Being Highjacked by Spirochetes.”