Lyme disease affects an estimated 476,000 Americans every year, in both adults and children. Though it’s treatable when caught early, many people can go undiagnosed for years without realizing it. However, because untreated Lyme disease can lead to serious long-term symptoms affecting the heart, joints, and nervous system, it’s important for parents to be aware of how to spot and prevent Lyme disease in kids. Read on to learn more about what Lyme disease is and what to do if you think your child has been infected.
What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is an infection caused by a type of bacteria that’s spread by the bite of an infected blacklegged tick. It happens most commonly during the spring and summer and can be difficult to spot since ticks are so small — the size of a poppy seed — and tend to attach to hard-to-spot parts of the body.
Symptoms & signs of Lyme disease in kids
The earliest sign of Lyme disease in kids is the tell-tale red rash in the shape of a bullseye. This can appear just days after being bitten by an infected tick. Though the rash itself isn’t usually painful, it’s often accompanied by flu-like symptoms including fever, headaches, tiredness, muscle aches, and joint pain. Over time, the rash can expand in size, and the infection can spread to other parts of the body. Later stage symptoms of Lyme disease include:
- Severe headaches
- Facial palsy (drooping on one or both sides)
- Heart problems, like inflammation and palpitations
- Nerve pain
- Joint pain
- Memory problems
These symptoms can last for months or years if left untreated, so it’s best to get your child tested and treated as soon as you notice symptoms or suspect they’ve been bitten by a tick. The sooner treatment begins, the lower their chances of developing serious side effects.
How to test for Lyme disease in your child
If your child has spent time outdoors in a wooded or grassy area and is exhibiting a circular rash, you should bring them to the doctor. For serious symptoms, bring them to the emergency room. Your healthcare provider will assess your child’s symptoms and the likeliness they’ve been exposed to a tick. At this stage of the infection, they may not yet have antibodies that will appear in a blood test, so the Lyme diagnosis is based on tick exposure and the presence of a rash. However, if you’re bringing your child to the doctor weeks after the infection has started, a blood test will typically be used to confirm the Lyme diagnosis.
Lyme disease treatment for kids
Early Lyme disease treatment for kids consists of antibiotics for about two weeks. Most cases of Lyme disease are cured after finishing the round of antibiotics. If your child doesn’t receive Lyme disease treatment until it has spread to their nervous system, they may need a longer course of antibiotics administered through an IV line.
How to avoid Lyme disease
The great news is there are many actions you can take to protect your family from Lyme disease. Here are some ways to avoid it:
Ticks typically live in grassy or wooded areas. You may encounter them while out hunting, camping, or even gardening. If you are in a tick-prone area, avoid areas with high grass, brush, and heavy leaf litter. Stick to the center of trails if you are walking through the woods.
Minimize how much skin is exposed since ticks can’t bite through clothing. Have kids wear a hat, and tuck their long pants into their socks and long-sleeved shirts into their pants. Be sure to dress them in socks and closed-toe shoes in areas where there may be ticks.
In addition to maximizing coverage, have your kids wear light-colored clothing when they’ll be spending time outdoors. This makes it easier to visually spot ticks.
Repellents that contain DEET can repel ticks and can be applied to exposed skin (excluding the nose, eyes, and mouth). Be sure to select a child-safe repellent for your kids, and don’t use it on children less than a year old. You can also treat clothing and gear with permethrin to protect against ticks. Permethrin can kill ticks on contact.
As soon as your child comes back indoors, have them take a shower. This will help wash away unattached ticks since it can take hours for them to attach. This is also a good time to do a full-body check for ticks.
Ticks can be as small as a poppy seed, so it’s not usually easy to spot them. They also often attach to hard-to-see areas. If your family has been somewhere with ticks, check your child for them in the following areas:
- In their hair and along the hairline
- Under the arms
- In the belly button
- Around the waist
- Between legs
- Behind the knees
- On the neck
- Behind the ears
How to remove a tick
If you spot a tick on your child during your check, try to remove it as quickly as possible. Removing a tick within the first 24-36 hours can greatly reduce the chances of contracting Lyme disease. To remove the tick, grab a pair of fine-tipped tweezers to carefully and steadily pull the tick away from the skin so it remains intact. Avoid squeezing or twisting it. Clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water. Lastly, apply antiseptic to the bite.
Emergency treatment for tick and insect bites
If your child is experiencing severe symptoms from tick or other insect bites like headaches, dizziness, rapid heartbeat, fever, or chills, bring them to your closest emergency room for treatment. Neighbors Emergency Center has six convenient locations throughout the Greater Houston area and has extensive experience treating all types of pediatric emergencies. With short wait times and comfortable private rooms, Neighbors is a comforting choice for young patients in an emergency. Find your nearest Neighbors Emergency Center here.