Lyme disease symptoms are never exactly the same in any two people and many common Lyme disease symptoms in children are less often reported by adults with the condition. As the spring weather warms up, ticks carrying Lyme disease become more active and children spend more time outdoors, parents should be on the lookout for symptoms of the infection in their children.
How Lyme Disease Affects Children
Lyme disease bacteria tend to cluster in vulnerable tissue and emphasise existing constitutional weaknesses, meaning that the exacerbation of existing symptoms may not, at first, be connected to a new infection. Children with respiratory problems, such as asthma, may have worsening breathing difficulties, those with an existing joint injury could find that their recovery slows down or even reverses, and those with a tendency towards fatigue, headaches, or even heart problems may experience more pronounced difficulties in those areas, as well as feeling generally unwell.
Bell’s Palsy and Lyme Disease in Children
Children are particularly at risk of cranioneuropathies (such as Bell’s palsy), where nerves in the head are adversely affected by the infection. Around 3% of those with Lyme disease acquire Bell’s Palsy, where the face is partially numbed and paralyzed. This symptom is most commonly attributed to Lyme disease in endemic areas and should immediately prompt parents to seek medical attention for their child. Children with this condition are also likely to be suffering with headaches and other symptoms that can indicate meningitis. Recent research resulted in a new system for differentiating Lyme disease and non-Lyme meningitis in children. Children may also develop Lyme carditis in the early stages of infection, sometimes leading to complete heart block and the need for a pacemaker (usually temporarily).
Lyme Disease Rash in Children
Small children diagnosed with Lyme at an early stage may have a rash on the head or neck and older children often have the erythema migrans rash on extremities. These small surface areas can make it difficult to recognize the Lyme disease rash in children, especially when larger circles appear over time and spread across the face, neck or in the armpit.
Children with late stage Lyme disease tend not to have any history of the Lyme disease rash, usually because it has been missed at an earlier stage or never occurred (thus delaying diagnosis). As such, the bullseye rash is not necessary for a Lyme disease diagnosis to be made.
Lyme Arthritis in Children
Later stages of Lyme disease in children include Lyme arthritis, usually causing symptoms in the larger joints such as the knees. The first documented cases of Lyme disease were in children initially diagnosed with juvenile arthritis in Old Lyme, Connecticut. It was only when adults at a nearby army base also developed symptoms that investigators became suspicious over such a diagnosis. Joint pain in children is normally attributed to growing pains, juvenile arthritis or a specific injury to the joint, whereas such symptoms in adults will usually be put down to wear and tear.
Further Symptoms of Lyme Disease in Kids
Children may initially suffer from a flu-like illness, tiredness, lethargy, possible gastrointestinal symptoms, aches and pains, fever and confusion. Many parents rightly seek medical attention for such common Lyme disease symptoms in children, meaning that the infection has a better chance of being caught early and treated effectively with antibiotics before it has a chance to do any permanent damage. As always, it is preferable to take steps to protect children against Lyme disease wherever possible.