We’re now at the height of summer, making the outdoors the place to be! But, as fun as it is to enjoy time hiking, gardening, biking and more, spending time outside also comes with some responsibilities. Along with protecting yourself from the sun and staying hydrated, it’s also important to be aware of critters we may encounter. Specifically, ticks and their ability to spread Lyme disease. So, let’s talk about what to look out for, how to take precautions and make sure time spent outdoors is safe as can be!
What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is an illness that spreads to humans through ticks infected with Borrelia burgdorferi. While ticks are otherwise harmless, black-legged deer ticks carrying this bacterium can transmit Lyme to humans.
Folks living, working and enjoying the outdoors in rural areas who regularly access grassy, bushy, and wooded spaces are most at risk of encountering ticks. And different species of ticks prefer to live in different types of environments. For example, the black-legged tick likes to live in moist environments such as under leaf litter. Whereas, the American dog or wood tick prefers drier environments like tall grasses.
Ticks can also hitch a ride on pets who roam free outdoors, so be sure to check your animals regularly as well. Eastern Canada and Manitoba are the most high-risk spots for Lyme disease today, but infected ticks are found across the country.
How to know if it’s Lyme disease
In order to transmit infection, a tick has to be present on the skin for about 36 to 48 hours. Within a period of 3 to 30 days following a tick bite, a telltale sign of Lyme disease is a flat, circular rash on the site of the bite (often called a bullseye rash).
Early symptoms of Lyme disease in adults and children range from mild discomfort to having a more serious impact. They include:
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Lack of focus and difficulty concentrating
- Dizziness, shortness of breath
- Nerve pain
- Arthritic pain with swelling in the knees and joints
- Mood changes
When Lyme disease is treated immediately, often in the form of antibiotics, recovery can be swift. Unfortunately, tick bites can be easy to miss, and not everyone knows what to look out for, which can make Lyme disease harder to diagnose and treat.
What happens when Lyme disease is left untreated?
Symptoms of long-term Lyme disease include neurological complaints like numbness, tingling, weakness or paralysis. Thankfully, many people affected with Lyme disease recover their health with the help of antibiotics, supplements, medicinal herbs and other holistic therapies.
What should I do if I find a tick on me?
Here are some steps to follow if you find a tick on you or someone you know:
- Try to remain calm. Then find gloves and a pair of tweezers.
- Wear gloves to protect your hands when removing the tick.
- Using the tweezers, grasp the tick as close to the skin as you can.
- Pull upward with steady, even pressure.
- Place the tick in a container to bring it to your healthcare provider for identification. From there, your doctor can observe whether the tick is one known to carry Lyme disease, and send it in for testing to find out if you’re at risk.
If you find a bite and suspect that it might be from a tick, contact your healthcare provider to help you identify the bite.
Antibiotics offer protection against relapse and ongoing infection. But overall, the best protection against Lyme disease is prevention. And that’s why it’s important to know the areas with the highest tick population near you, and what to do in case you do get bitten.
How to avoid getting Lyme disease
So how do you protect yourself from these pesky ticks? Start by wearing long pants and long-sleeve shirts when going outdoors. This helps keep ticks away from your skin. A strong insect repellant can also make a difference when you’re trying to prevent Lyme disease. Plus, it’ll keep away other critters too!
When you come home from a hike or some time in nature, make sure you do a thorough tick check. Start at the head, checking your hair and in an around your ears. Then make your way down to your arms, tummy, legs, and behind your knees. Check your clothes, bags, and pets for ticks, too. Tick checks may be the absolute best protection you have against Lyme disease, so make a habit of them!
Keeping your immune system healthy offers tremendous protection against Lyme and other co-infections. Lyme disease is actually triggered by our immune systems. When our bodies recognize the Lyme bacteria, the immune system sends reinforcements to fight it off immediately. But the bacteria causes our bodies to overreact so much that we’re left with a lot of inflammation throughout the body, wherever the bacteria spread. The longer the bacteria is in our system, the more inflammation we’re left with. Having a strong immune system can help us fight off the bacteria faster.
Medicinal herbs and fungi with a strong affinity for immune health include astragalus, which has broad-spectrum antibiotic properties. Immune-modulating and adaptogenic botanicals work well together: try a blend like Immune Health, a combo of astragalus, Siberian ginseng, codonopsis, reishi, schisandra, and andrographis.
Ticks are no fun, but don’t let the fear of Lyme disease keep you away from your favourite summer activities! Spending time outdoors in the woods, forests and fields with your favourite people does wonders for your health. There’s no reason to stop doing these activities, as long as you’re taking the proper precautions to stay safe out there.
Enjoy your favourite outdoor activities safely by practicing tick checks, being tick aware, and supporting your immune system with therapeutic botanicals. Now, get out there and enjoy the sunshine!