Lyme disease is a bacterial infection spread by infected ticks. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 30,000 people are infected with Lyme disease each year. However, that number is estimated to be much higher (as high as 475,000 cases). The reason for the vast difference in statistics is likely due to the way national surveillance records the cases – the smaller number of cases is simply what is reported to the CDC, not the exact total number of cases documented.
Either way, too many people are affected by the disease in the US, especially considering the long-term consequences of Lyme disease and the dire strain it can put on a person’s health. With Lyme disease, many people often experience symptoms that mimic other conditions and can last long after treatment. These symptoms have the potential to be debilitating. But does the season affect how severe Lyme disease can be? Are Lyme disease symptoms worse in winter? Let’s investigate.
What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?
Lyme disease presents differently from person to person, and often the symptoms are so non-specific that many people may not even be aware that they have the condition. But since prompt treatment is crucial to avoid any long-term consequences, knowing the key signs and symptoms is vital. There are three different stages of Lyme disease, all of which have some overlapping symptoms and some differing symptoms.
The signs of Lyme disease that present in the early localized stage include:
- A circular red rash that looks like a bulls-eye
- Fatigue or lack of energy
- Stiff neck
- Pain in the muscles and joints
- Swollen Lymph nodes
Since these symptoms can be mild and present similarly to the flu, many people aren’t aware that they may have Lyme disease at this point. These symptoms typically appear within one to four weeks of transmission.
The second stage, known as early disseminated infection, develops between one to four months after transmission of the bacteria and can include symptoms such as:
- Expansion of the circular red rash around the site of the bite and more rashes on other parts of the body
- Numbness, weakness, or pain in the extremities
- Inability to use the muscles in the face
- Continuous headaches
- Fainting spells
- Inability to concentrate and reduced memory capacity
- Pain, redness, and swelling in the large joints of the body, such as the knee or hip
- Heart palpitations
The last stage, known as chronic or late persistent Lyme disease, occurs when someone does not get treatment promptly after infection. Serious damage can occur to major organs such as the heart and brain. Other symptoms can include:
- Extreme fatigue
- Cognitive issues
- Inflammation of the lining of the heart muscle (this can occur years after the initial infection)
- Other heart problems
While some of these symptoms are rare, anyone with Lyme disease can develop them.
Does weather affect Lyme disease?
Many people are unaware that extreme temperatures, whether hot or cold, can exacerbate Lyme disease symptoms. For example: it has been found that the bacteria that causes the Lyme disease infection cannot thrive in temperatures that are too hot. Because of this, when the temperature of the body increases, the bacteria essentially begins to “panic.”
Extreme temperatures also affect the nervous system, and when the nervous system is damaged by Lyme disease, it can cause other symptoms to arise. In some cases, other ailments such as dizziness, fatigue, and joint aches become much worse when the weather is either extremely hot or extremely cold.
Does Lyme disease get worse in the winter?
During the winter, some symptoms of Lyme disease can become worse because of the way cold weather affects the body. One such symptom is Lyme arthritis – one of the main ailments caused by Lyme disease that tends to flare up during the winter months.
There are several theories as to why this happens. One such theory has to do with barometric pressure and its ability to expand tissues, which then put pressure on the joints. Another theory is that being out in cold weather causes a tightening and stiffening of muscles in the body. While there is little clinical evidence to support these theories, people with the infection have often stated that both hot and cold temperatures cause their symptoms to flare up.
Lyme disease – especially untreated Lyme disease or post-Lyme disease syndrome – can be difficult to cope with, and many people who have experienced it understand just how debilitating it can be. If you have Lyme disease and notice your symptoms worsening in the winter months, be sure to speak to your doctor about possible options for further treatment or medications, and avoid cold weather conditions wherever possible.