Lyme disease is a tick-borne illness that can affect the body as a whole, as well as its individual parts. The bacteria that causes the infection can camp out in tissues for a long time, making it that much more difficult to get rid of. Even with treatment, some bacteria may stay out of reach, biding its time to come back out and cause illness all over again. This is why it can be hard to determine if Lyme disease has been treated successfully or if new symptoms are developing because of an old Lyme infection.
The symptoms most associated with a Lyme disease infection, such as flu-like symptoms, a rash, and joint aches and pains, are often present in early infection. However, late-stage Lyme disease can come with a host of various symptoms that are not always seen in every patient. So can Lyme disease affect eyesight, for example? And if so, how?
What are the most common symptoms of Lyme disease?
Aside from the aforementioned symptoms, many people with Lyme disease may experience others such as fatigue, fever, headache, sort throat, and swollen glands. As the disease worsens, cognitive health, along with the health of various other organs and tissues, can become compromised. The area of the body affected depends entirely on where the bacteria has infiltrated.
How does Lyme disease affect eyesight?
Knowing how Lyme disease affects eyesight begins with understanding the various Lyme disease stages. There are three stages associated with the disease: early localized, early disseminated, and late disseminated. While many people with Lyme disease experience vision symptoms in the later stages, these can happen at any point during the infection. The way the problems present will differ greatly from patient to patient, and not everyone will experience eye issues with Lyme disease.
Can Lyme disease affect the optic nerve?
While Lyme disease can affect the eyes at any stage, the changes made to the optic nerve typically occur in the late stages of disease. Since the bacteria can cause inflammation, the optic nerve can become damaged or affected by that inflammation.
Inflammation of the eye can cause issues with the optic nerve – which, in the worst case, could lead to vision loss. When this type of eye inflammation and nerve damage occurs, a person with Lyme disease may experience symptoms such as pain, color and vision loss, and seeing flashing lights.
What other eye problems can arise because of Lyme disease?
Some eye issues, such as optic nerve damage, are more severe, while others that develop because of Lyme disease are less consequential. Other types of issues eye health that can occur because of Lyme disease include:
- Conjunctivitis: Otherwise known as pinkeye, this infection involves inflammation of the white part of the eye. The most common cause of pinkeye is adenovirus; however, it can be caused by other infections, including Lyme disease. Pinkeye in Lyme disease is typically an early sign of the infection, as it forms with the first few weeks. However, only about 10% of people with Lyme disease will develop pinkeye.
- Light sensitivity: Otherwise known as photophobia, light sensitivity occurs when there is a normal level of light in a person’s environment, but it causes them discomfort. In some people, this sensitivity can be so severe that they are unable to see.
- Eye inflammation (other than the optic nerve): Inflammation of other areas of the eye structures can develop because of a Lyme disease infection and cause serious issues. When the retinal vessels become inflamed because of the infection, people may develop floaters in their eyes or experience impaired vision.
- Facial nerve inflammation: In some cases, the facial nerve may become inflamed and cause Bell’s palsy-like symptoms, which include disordered facial movements, loss of feeling in the face, and issues with closing the eye. This can lead to a dry cornea, which may drive infection in the eye even further.
These eye symptoms will not be experienced by everyone with a Lyme disease infection, but they are possible, and you should monitor for them if you have recently been diagnosed with Lyme disease.
Eye signs to look out for
While it may be difficult to tell if your Lyme infection is causing eye symptoms, there are some signs you can watch out for. More common Lyme disease eye symptoms include:
- Partial vision loss
- Blurred vision
- Burning or pain in the eyes
- Itchy or watery eyes
- Difficulty closing the eye
- Loss of color vision
- Flashing lights
- Red eyes
- Eye discharge
- Floaters (spots in front of the eyes)
- Double vision
- Tracking problems
- Convergence insufficiency
The key to avoiding any long-term complications of Lyme disease is avoiding the infection in the first place, or seeking out prompt treatment if you do happen to get bitten by an infected tick. Always cover up with appropriate clothing if you are in wooded areas, and check for ticks promptly when returning home. If you find and remove a tick, bring it in to your doctor to get it tested for Lyme disease.
Featured image by Amanda Dalbjörn on Unsplash