Children, Teens, and Lyme Disease

Children and Teens…

    • don’t realize what is “normal”
    • cannot always articulate symptoms
    • cannot remember sequences of events
    • need someone to listen
    • need an advocate
    • need to be believed

Diagnosing Lyme disease in children can be difficult, because…

the child may not look sick.
 the child may not know that symptoms like constant headaches, ringing ears,
numbness and tingling aren’t normal.
 the child may be unable to describe their symptoms
 adults may think a child who complains frequently is just trying to get attention.
intense, transient pain is hard to prove.

Common Symptoms in Children:

    • Headache (frequent/constant, lasting for months or years & may not be relieved by medication)
    • Light sensitivity which can intensify headaches, requiring sunglasses
    • Stomach pain (sometimes accompanied by an ulcer)
    • Chest pain
    • Earaches
    • Sore Throat
    • Joint and muscle pain (with or without swelling)
    • Episodes of stiffness
    • Transient vision or hearing problems

Issues at School:

    • Sunglasses may be needed due to light sensitivity, even indoors
    • Need to go to the bathroom frequently. May not be able to wait for teacher permission.
    • Cognitive problems that come and go.
    • Concentration and memory problems can make math especially difficult.
    • Slowed thinking can impair comprehension of oral and written language
    • A child with Lyme can suddenly not recognize familiar places and can get lost in the school.
    • The disease can cause learning disabilities and low IQ scores.
    • Word, number and letter reversals in written and oral speech (dyslexia) are common.
    • Sometimes IQ scores jump after a child begins antibiotic treatment.
    • Children with autistic or psychiatric symptoms may talk and act normal when on antibiotics.
    • Children with Lyme can be too tired to go to school and may need to go part-time or receive home schooling.
    • The symptoms and severity of symptoms can vary from day to day.
    • A child may feel well enough to go to school one day, but not the next.
    • Absences may be frequent.
    • The children can also have social problems, being too tired to play with friends, and being teased if they have trouble walking, talking, or learning.
    • Other children may avoid them, because of an unfounded fear that the disease is contagious.
    • Lyme disease can cause sudden panic attacks, irritability and mood swings.
    • Children with Lyme may have only mild problems, or the effects can be severe enough to put a child in a wheelchair.
    • Children whose mothers have active Lyme disease during pregnancy can be born with damage to the brain, heart, liver, and other organs.
      • They can have a variety of problems, including frequent illness, speech delays, other developmental delays, or severe multiple disabilities.
      • Antibiotic treatment throughout pregnancy can prevent congenital Lyme disease.

Teenagers with Lyme disease also have special problems. The disease can cause…

    • a sudden drop in grades
    • mood swings
    • depression
    • suicidal thoughts
    • personality changes
    • sleep problems
    • poor concentration
    • cognitive problems
    • a loss of interest in school and school activities.

These changes can be mistaken for drug abuse. A drug test is often ordered to rule this out. Hormone changes can also be blamed, or teenagers can be accused of being lazy or rebellious and not trying hard enough in school. All these problems can make it more difficult to get diagnosed.

Teenagers with Lyme may be too tired to attend school or to complete their work.

  • They may need to go to school part-time or not at all.
  • Home teaching may be needed.
  • They may have a drop in grades, especially in subjects that require a person to remember previously learned concepts, such as math, foreign language, and chemistry and other science courses.
  • They may do fine in history and English.
  • Loneliness can be a problem for teenagers with Lyme. They may be too tired to participate in social activities with friends. It’s hard for them to predict how they will feel from day to day, making it difficult to make social plans, which often have to be canceled. (This withdrawal from friends is not typical of drug abusers, who may change friends, but will socialize.)
  • Students who are ill with Lyme disease in high school are often feeling better and performing better by the time they go to college. They can arrange for an un-timed SAT test with a letter from a doctor. They may need this, since Lyme disease slows the thinking. If a Lyme patient has a year or so of poor grades from illness, the doctor can write a letter explaining the health problems and asserting that the patient’s health is improving with treatment. This letter can be included with a college application.

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