man balancing on log

Can Lyme Disease Cause Balance Problems?

Lyme disease often goes unreported because of the way its symptoms can mimic other health conditions. The borrelia bacteria, the culprit behind Lyme disease, is spread through tick bites. When a person contracts the illness, it can be treated with antibiotics, but if that doesn’t happen swiftly, the bacteria will make its way throughout the body, camping out in tissue and joints in an effort to evade the medication designed to kill it.

When the bacteria escapes detection, it can affect the entire body, including the heart, joints, muscles, central nervous system, and even the eyes. The prognosis for Lyme disease recovery varies based on several factors, with the main factor being how long it took to receive treatment. The symptoms caused by the disease will also need to be addressed – some of which may be neurological in nature. So can Lyme disease cause balance problems?

What are the main symptoms of Lyme disease?

Lyme disease can cause a myriad of different symptoms. Initially, the condition can feel like the flu as it is accompanied by symptoms such as body and muscle aches, fatigue, fever, and headaches. A signature sign that someone has contracted Lyme disease is the rash that occurs at the site where the tick latched on. The rash is red and looks much like a bull’s eye symbol.

Some other symptoms that can arise in an early case of Lyme disease include chills and swollen lymph nodes. These signs should not be ignored because, as mentioned above, getting prompt treatment will make all the difference in how the disease progresses throughout the body. For those who deem the symptoms too mild to get a proper diagnosis, the bacteria can cause permanent damage until treatment is sought.

woman experiencing confusion
Image by Uday Mittal on Unsplash: Untreated Lyme disease can lead to confusion and other cognitive issues. 

What are the neurological symptoms of Lyme disease?

In some cases, the neurological symptoms of Lyme disease can be specific in nature. However, other times they are subtle to the point of being insufficient for a Lyme diagnosis. Those with the condition can end up experiencing symptoms of cognitive decline, such as difficulty concentrating or the inability to process information at the rate they did prior to the tick bite. Memory can also be affected by Lyme disease, and can lead to confusion. People may also experience an increased sensitivity to light and changes in their vision.

Because of the way Lyme disease affects cranial nerves and other parts of the brain, other neurological symptoms may appear. The cranial nerve that’s affected will determine the type of symptom that occurs. For example, if the facial nerve is affected, a person may experience facial weakness or paralysis. Other nerves being affected can lead to symptoms such as dizziness, balance issues, loss of coordination, and a loss of taste or smell. In more severe cases, people can develop conditions that cause inflammation of the area where the brain and spinal cord meet, leading to meningitis or encephalopathy.  

Lyme disease and inner ear problems

Although ear problems aren’t as common as other symptoms associated with Lyme disease, they can occur. Some reports of the disease have found that Lyme has the ability to result in sudden hearing loss. Additionally, it can lead to the development of autoimmune inner ear disease, a condition that causes hearing loss in both ears due to an uncontrolled and unwarranted immune response.

The inner ear plays an important role in the body and has two main jobs: changing sound waves to electrical signals to help with sound perception, and aiding in balance. Lyme disease has been shown to lead to the dysfunction of the inner ear, a condition known as bilateral vestibular loss, which leads to a person experiencing balance problems. If a person with Lyme disease suffers from bilateral vestibular loss, they may find it difficult to walk normally or may have issues when walking up or down slopes, stairs, or other areas that require balance.

person experiencing dizziness
Image by Radvilas Seputis on Unsplash: Is dizziness a symptom of Lyme disease?

Can Lyme disease cause walking problems?

As mentioned above, Lyme disease can cause issues with balance, which will lead to problems with walking. The inner ear maintains balance so that we can move around without feeling dizzy or disconnected from our footing. Walking problems can also arise for a person with the condition because of the way it affects the joints. Although the pain tends to be intermittent in the affected joints, it can hinder a person’s ability to walk as they used to. This symptom of Lyme disease is referred to as Lyme arthritis.

Treating balance issues in Lyme disease

The only way to treat Lyme disease is through the use of antibiotics. Often, those with neurological issues caused by Lyme disease have a difficult time overcoming symptoms, even with treatment. This is why vestibular rehabilitation may be necessary to address issues with balance and restore a person back to their full abilities.

Featured image by Jon Flobrant on Unsplash

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