Lyme Disease in Children

Children are at higher risk of acquiring tick-borne diseases based on their outdoor activities. According to the CDC, the highest infection rates for Lyme disease occur in children, ages 5 to 9. Of the over 300,000 people infected in the U.S. each year, one in four is a child.  

In addition to well-known symptoms such as joint pain and fever, children may have a unique presentation of Lyme disease, including:

  • Mood Swings
  • Vision Problems
  • Headaches and Stomachaches
  • Hyperactivity/ADHD Symptoms
  • Autism-like Behaviors
  • Oppositional Behaviors
  • Self-Mutilating Behaviors
  • Learning Disabilities
  • Trouble with Processing Speed and Memory
  • Vocal/Motor Tics
  • Sudden Onset Anxiety Disorders
  • Light and Sound Sensitivity
  • Difficulty Focusing
  • Obsessive Compulsive Behaviors
  • Dark circles under eyes
  • Irregular Rashes
  • Lethargy

Young children may not recognize or volunteer these signs and symptoms.

As parents and educators, recognition of the other potential signs and symptoms of Lyme is critical in getting timely diagnosis and treatment.

Sometimes neurological or psychiatric symptoms may be the only sign of a Lyme infection in a child.

Pediatric Lyme disease can cause behavior problems

Pediatric Lyme disease has been misdiagnosed as OCD, or pediatric Bi-polar disorder. It can also cause Depression. Exposure to Lyme and other tick-borne diseases may also trigger PANS (Pediatric Acute-Onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome) which is an encephalitic-type autoimmune disease that can be induced by different illnesses. In PANS, cells that should be fighting the disease itself break through the blood brain barrier of the child (or adult) and attack the brain. When a child exhibits sudden changes in behavior with no known cause, the possibility of Lyme and other tick-borne infections should be considered.

Lyme disease symptoms can be vague, and change daily

Some children with tick-borne disease have been accused of malingering, or trying to manipulate parents, coaches or teachers. Children who’s symptoms appear to be disingenuous may be genuinely ill. Parent’s of children with Lyme and other tick-borne diseases face unique challenges. Support from doctors, teachers, family and friends may be difficult due to the lack of understanding regarding Lyme disease. Resources are available for Parents, Children and Educators. You are not alone!

 “Some of these symptoms may be very subtle, so it is difficult for [parents and] teachers to realize that they are dealing with a sick child, rather than a child who is daydreaming, or simply trying to avoid his school work.”
—S. Berenbaum, LCSW