Lyme disease is a tick-borne illness caused by the borrelia bacteria. When a person is bitten and fed on by a tick carrying the bacteria, it transfers into the bloodstream and then makes its way throughout the body. Because of its ability to evade detection, the borrelia bacteria can easily make its way into tissues, joints, and organs.
In some cases, catching a Lyme infection early and treating it with antibiotics is enough to rid the bacteria from the body. However, other times people aren’t so lucky, and they end up with persistent symptoms that last for months or even years after they’ve come into contact with the bacteria. Lyme disease is complex, and because of this, medical scientists are still unsure why some people can fully recover while others deal with lingering symptoms long after treatment. So what areas can Lyme impact? Can Lyme disease affect your vision?
Read on to learn more about Lyme disease and its symptoms, including how it can affect your eyesight.
Lyme disease symptoms
Lyme disease symptoms come in stages. The first-stage symptoms develop shortly after the tick bite and include the following:
- A red rash that looks like a bullseye around the site where the tick latched on
- Flu-like symptoms such as chills and fever
- Headache and stiff neck
- Muscle soreness and joint pain
- Swollen glands
- Sore throat
Sometimes people in stage one avoid symptoms altogether, which is why Lyme disease can often go undiagnosed. Stage two symptoms develop a few days or weeks after the bite and can include things such as:
- Pain and weakness in the extremities
- Numbness in the arms and legs
- Changes in vision
- Heart palpitations
- Chest pain
- Lightheadedness or fainting caused by changes in the heart
- Facial paralysis
The third and final stage of Lyme disease is often referred to as late-stage Lyme disease or persistent Lyme disease. The bacteria can affect the brain, nerves, joints, and other organs during this stage. It is considered the most severe stage of the condition. Some late-stage Lyme disease symptoms include:
- Severe headaches or migraines
- Pain that migrates from joint to joint or in the tendons
- Stiff and achy neck
- Insomnia and other sleep issues
- Heart rhythm changes
- Brain fog that affects memory, concentration, learning, and alertness
- Numbness in the extremities
- Difficulties processing information
- Severe fatigue
While vision changes don’t happen to everyone, they will usually begin to develop during stage two of Lyme disease.
What parts of the eye are affected by Lyme disease?
Lyme disease doesn’t discriminate, and any part of the eye can be affected. The borrelia bacteria can damage the uvea, cornea, iris, and choroid. The symptoms that develop will depend highly on what area of the eye is affected.
How Lyme disease can affect the eyes
While the symptom is lesser-known, Lyme disease can cause vision and eye issues. There are a few main issues that can arise in a person who has Lyme disease that affects the eyes:
- A change in visual contrast
- Horner syndrome
People with post-treatment Lyme disease are most likely to develop changes in the visual contrast ability of their eyes – this means they cannot see contrast as they usually would, and may have blurry vision as a result. This kind of issue is associated with more severe illness and can affect how well a person sees overall.
Horner syndrome, although rare, has been documented in two people with Lyme disease in the last two decades. Horner syndrome is a disorder characterized by various eye symptoms, such as:
- A drooping upper eyelid
- Eyeball sinking
- Constricted pupils
Scleritis is a form of eye inflammation that affects specific tissues known as the episcleral and scleral tissues.
Lyme disease and eye inflammation
When the eye becomes inflamed because of Lyme disease, various symptoms can develop, including:
- Double vision from damage to the optic and cranial nerves
- Red eyes that occur with or without pain
- Sensitivity to bright lights
- Blurry vision
- An increase in eye floaters
- Eye tenderness
- Redness and swelling in the whites of the eyes
- Infection of the transparent membrane on the eyeball, a condition known as conjunctivitis
- Retina inflammation
How do you treat eye symptoms caused by Lyme disease?
Antibiotics are the mainstay therapy for people who have not yet received any form of treatment for Lyme disease. Sometimes, a person may have to do more than one course of antibiotics. Rounds of antibiotic therapy can last for two weeks to 28 days, depending on the severity of symptoms and how long ago the infection began. Typically, the 28-day course of antibiotics is the secondary treatment and is done after a person doesn’t respond to the 14-day therapy.
If you have Lyme disease eye symptoms and are unsure what to do, contact your health care provider for a proper diagnosis. Getting prompt treatment is the best way to avoid lasting and prolonged symptoms of Lyme disease.