Connection Between Chronic Lyme Disease and Mold Illness
Chronic Lyme disease and Mold illness are two diseases that can create havoc on the body, affecting every body system and function. Both these diseases resemble one another with overlapping symptoms and can be challenging to diagnose and treat.
While Lyme disease is transmitted through ticks, mold illness occurs due to exposure to high levels of mold in the house, building, school, office or any other place where a person spends significant amount of time.
Recent studies show a clear link between Lyme disease and mold exposure. They often occur together and present with similar symptoms, frequently mimicking the neurological signs of autism. Exposure to mold is a potential concern for people suffering from Lyme disease.
What is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease also known as Lyme borreliosis is a tick - borne bacterial infection caused by the Bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. Bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi are spirochetes or spiral bacteria belonging to genus Borrelia.
Bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks or deer tick. The infected tick must be attached to the human for 36 to 48 hours before it can infect its host. Most Lyme infections are transmitted by immature ticks that are very small and they typically attach to hard-to-see areas such as armpits, scalp and groin.
The most common sign of Lyme infection is an expanding red rash, known as erythema migrans, which appears at the site of tick bite. Approximately 70 to 80 % of infected people develop the rash which is usually neither painful nor itchy.
Lyme disease can affect any organ in the body, such as the heart, brain and nervous system, muscles and joints. Lyme disease is also called ‘The Great Imitator’ because its symptoms are similar to many other diseases.
Lyme disease is the most commonly occurring vector-borne illness in North America and Europe. It is also widely found in temperate regions of the Northern hemisphere. Incidences of infection are higher among children between 5 to 15 years old and in adults older than 50 years.
Signs and Symptoms of Lyme Disease
The signs and symptoms of Lyme disease usually appear in stages, but sometimes the symptoms can overlap.
Early-Stage Signs and Symptoms Of Lyme Disease
The signs and symptoms of Lyme disease can occur within 3 to 30 days after a person has been infected and include:
- Rash – Erythema migrans: Typically, about three to 30 days after an infected tick bite, an expanding red rash develops which appears clear in the center, forming a bull's eye pattern. The rash expands slowly over a few days and can spread to about 12 inches across. It’s typically not itchy or painful but might feel warm to touch.
- Other Symptoms - Fever, chills, fatigue, body aches, headache, neck stiffness, and swollen lymph nodes can accompany the rash.
Later Stage Signs and Symptoms of Lyme Disease
When Lyme disease is left untreated, new signs and symptoms begin to appear during the following weeks to months. These symptoms include:
- Eye inflammation
- Heart problems such as irregular heartbeat
- Joint pain
- Liver inflammation
- Muscle pain
- Neurological problems
- Restless sleep
- Severe fatigue
Diagnosis of Lyme Disease
- Physical examination: This is the most common way to evaluate the Lyme disease by searching for tick bite and rash.
- Medical history and history of exposure to ticks is collected by the physician.
- Lab tests: Lab tests are used to identify antibodies to the bacteria and can help confirm or rule out the diagnosis.
- Enzyme Linked Immunosorbent Assay (Elisa) Test- This test is used most often to detect Lyme disease. ELISA detects antibodies to Burgdorferi. But it may sometimes provide false positive results and cannot be used as the sole basis of diagnosis.
- Western Blot - If the ELISA test is positive, this test is usually done to confirm the diagnosis. In this two-step approach, the western blot detects antibodies to several proteins of Burgdorferi.
Treatment Of Lyme Disease
Antibiotics are used to treat Lyme disease. In general, recovery will be faster and more complete if Lyme disease is diagnosed early and the treatment is started early.
- Oral Antibiotics: Oral antibiotics are the standard treatment for early-stage Lyme disease. These usually include doxycycline for adults and children older than 8. Amoxicillin or cefuroxime is administered for older adults, younger children, and pregnant or breast-feeding women.
- Intravenous Antibiotics: If the Lyme disease involves the central nervous system, the doctor might recommend treatment with an intravenous antibiotic for 14 to 28 days. This is effective in eliminating infection, although it may take some time for the patient to recover from the symptoms.
What Is Chronic Lyme Disease?
Chronic Lyme disease occurs, when a person who has been treated with antibiotics, still continue to experience symptoms of Lyme disease, which may last for months or years after the tick bite. Approximately about 10 to 20 % of people who have been treated with antibiotics have disease symptoms even after they have completed the treatment. This condition is also known as post Lyme disease syndrome or post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome.
Very often patients with chronic Lyme disease are misdiagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis and various psychiatric illnesses. Misdiagnosis with other diseases may cause delay in the correct diagnosis and treatment as the underlying infection progresses unhindered. Though the clinical features are varied, death occurs very rarely.
Symptoms of Chronic Lyme disease
People with chronic Lyme disease have persistent symptoms which can include:
- Cognitive dysfunction
- Decreased ability to concentrate
- Decreased short-term memory
- Facial palsy
- Irregular heartbeat
- Joint and/or muscle aches
- Liver inflammation
- Restless sleep or trouble sleeping
- Speech problems
- Swelling or pain in the shoulders, elbows knees and other large joints
Prevention of Lyme Disease
Taking the following precautions can prevent the likelihood of getting Lyme disease and thus developing chronic Lyme disease.
- Using insect repellant on clothing, shoes and exposed skin while walking in wooded or grassy areas where ticks live.
- Checking for ticks after coming from outdoors.
- Check pets for ticks.
- Showering soon after coming from outdoors.
- Consulting the doctor early if a fever or rash develops.
What is Mold Illness?
Mold illness is caused by exposure to mold spores and mold biotoxins called mycotoxins. Mycotoxins enter the human body by inhalation, swallowing or skin absorption and can cause severe health consequences. Mold illness is often caused in people with weakened immune system who are exposed to high levels of mold growth in water damaged buildings making them more susceptible to the toxic effects of mold.
Mold illness which is also known as Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS) is different from mold allergy. Mold allergy is a short-term immune response to exposure to a particular type of mold. Mold illness occurs due to chronic exposure to mold growth when a person’s immune system overreacts while breathing mold spores, in enclosed water-damaged areas, causing widespread inflammation in the body. People with suppressed immune system or lung disease, may be more susceptible to fungal infections.
Mold spores enter indoors through open doors, windows, vents, and heating and air conditioning systems and grow where there is excess moisture such as leaks in roofs, windows or pipes. If large mold infestation is present in the house or building, one can usually see or smell it.
In people who are very sensitive, mold allergy can cause symptoms like coughing, itchy eyes, wheezing or other symptoms. In some people a mold allergy is linked to asthma and exposure causes restricted breathing. Continued mold exposure can lead to neurological symptoms that mimic neurological diseases such as movement disorders, pain syndromes, dementia and so on.
Signs And Symptoms of Mold Illness:
Symptoms of mold illness include:
- Abdominal pain
- Brain fog
- Chest tightness
- Chronic bronchitis and sinus infections
- Constant headaches
- Dry, scaly skin
- Impaired memory
- Increased urination
- Itchy eyes, nose and throat
- Mood swings, depression and anxiety
- Neurological symptoms
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Sexual dysfunction
- Shortness of breath
- Skin rashes and sores
- Watery eyes
- Weight and hair loss
Predisposing Factors for Mold Illness
- A weakened immune system
- Autoimmune illness
- Family history of allergies
- Living in a high humidity house or building
- Living in homes or buildings with excess moisture
- Working or living in a building that has poor ventilation
- Working or living in an environment that has leaky pipes, has been flooded or otherwise exposed to mold
Diagnosis of Mold Illness
Mold illness can be diagnosed by the following tests:
Skin Prick Test – This test is done by using diluted amounts of suspected allergen, such as mold. During the test, the allergen substance is applied on the skin of the arm or back using tiny punctures. If the person is allergic, they would develop a reaction or raised bump at the test location on the skin.
Blood Test – A blood test, called the radio-allergo sorbent test, is done to measure the immune systems response to mold by measuring the number of certain antibodies known as immunoglobulin E(Ige) antibodies present in the bloodstream. A blood sample is sent to the laboratory where it is tested for evidence of sensitivity to specific types of molds.
Treatment of Mold Illness
- Decongestant nasal spray
- Nasal corticosteroids
- Nasal lavage
- Oral decongestants
Mold illness cannot be completely cured if the patient continues to be exposed to mold infestation.
Link Between Lyme Disease and Mold Illness
Recent studies show that exposure to mold is a potential concern for people suffering from Lyme disease. Symptoms of Lyme disease and mold illness can be quite similar.
Similarity Between Lyme Disease and Mold Illness
In both Lyme disease and mold illness, symptoms occur due to disturbed immune response and overproduction of signaling molecule called proinflammatory cytokines. Cytokines are proteins produced by the immune system and help regulate immune responses.
Mold illness (CIRS) and Lyme disease can also trigger the same inflammatory pathways. Both Lyme disease and mold illness cause the immune system to overreact.
The presence of Lyme disease or mold illness or both in the body disrupt the immune system, causing inflammation which lead to digestion problems, body pains, respiratory symptoms, neurological symptoms, behavioral changes and other symptoms.
When the immune system responses are used appropriately, they can help to kick the immune system into the gear to fight pathogens and then calm to restore homeostasis in the body. However, if conditions like Lyme disease and mold disease remain in the body, the person remains inflamed, creating a dysregulated immune system and causing many life - changing symptoms.
How does the combination of Lyme disease and mold illness affect a patient?
Mycotoxins suppress the immune system function and are harmful to individuals with Lyme disease. Mold exposure also triggers inflammatory response that could worsen Lyme-related inflammation.
When a person who has Lyme disease is exposed to mold mycotoxins their bodies weaken significantly. The same thing happens if a person who has mold illness is exposed to Lyme disease. When a patient has one of these conditions, they become susceptible to the other condition, creating multiple damaging effects on the body.
Mold Exposure in Unresolved Cases of Chronic Lyme Disease
When a patient has chronic Lyme disease, mold illness needs to be considered. Mold suppresses the immune system, which makes it difficult to completely cure any type of infection. Often patients with Lyme disease are unable to fight infection unless they address mold exposure.
Lyme symptoms tend to have a fluctuating see-saw pattern and Lyme patients may have a few good days and then relapse for couple of weeks. Mold symptoms on the other hand, tend to be more consistent and patients with mold illness may have fatigue and brain fog every day before they are finally treated.
Mold patients may also feel an improvement in symptoms when they move away from the location of mold such as a workplace or home. However, people who have mold colonization in their sinus cavity or mucosal membranes would not notice any difference.
Common Signs and Symptoms of Chronic Lyme Disease and Mold Illness
Signs and symptoms of mold illness that are very similar to chronic Lyme disease include:
- Abdominal pain
- Change in appetite
- Confusion and disorientation
- Day/night sweats (more sweating at night)
- Excessive thirst
- Fatigue and weakness
- Increased urination, static shocks
- Issues with word recall and memory
- Joint pain
- Lack of Focus/concentration
- Metallic taste
- Mood swings
- Morning stiffness
- Muscle aches and cramps
- Red tearing eyes
- Shortness of breath
- Sinus problems
- Skin and light sensitivity
- Temperature regulation problems
- Tingling unusual ice pick pain
Neurological Symptoms of Lyme Disease and Mold Illness
Most people with Lyme disease and mold illness present very similar symptoms. Neurologically, both of these conditions impact the nervous system and cause disorganization, which further leads to a collection of symptoms that mimic autism-like characteristics.
Lyme disease may directly impact the neurological system, while the mycotoxins in mold cause neuronal-inflammation and activate a part of the immune system that affects the brain and behavior.
Common neurological signs and symptoms of Lyme disease and mold illness include:
- Chronic fatigue
- Learning difficulties
- Memory issues
- Mood swings
- Muscle aches and pains
- Numbness and tingling
- Poor concentration
- Sensitivity to light exposure and physical touch
- Temperature regulation issues
Many people also exhibit signs and symptoms that mimic conditions like:
- Attention deficit disorder (ADD)
- Bell’s Palsy (facial drooping)
- Chronic fatigue
- Heart conditions
- Multiple sclerosis
- Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
Impact of Lyme and Mold on the Digestive System
- The combination of Lyme disease and mold illness can have a very damaging effect on the digestive tract. Mold eventually makes its way to the lower gut mucosa leading to bowel dysfunction and nutrient absorption issues. Lyme disease could affect the bacterial community or the microbiome in the gut and the endothelial lining of the bowel. As the gut gets damaged by Lyme disease, mold expands and releases more harmful mycotoxins, causing further damage to the body.
Treatment of Lyme Disease and Mold Illness
If a person is suspected to have both mold illness and Lyme diseases, they should be tested for both the conditions and given appropriate treatment.
Lyme disease, is treated with antibiotics while for mold, corticosteroids or antihistamines are given to lessen symptoms. Neither of these approaches may completely address the concern and many people continue to struggle with unwanted symptoms of these conditions for years.
Treating Lyme Disease in The Context of Mold Illness
- Eliminating Mold Exposure: People must eliminate their exposure to mold. Lyme patient must live / work in a mold-free environment. Regularly changing heating and A/C filters and using dehumidifiers and air filtration systems will help. If high mold content is present vacate the premises.
- Reducing Inflammation: Inflammation can be reduced by binding internal mycotoxins. Immunocompromised patients may need to be treated with antiviral medication.
- Treating Molds in The Body.
- Treating Lyme and Co-Infections: Treatment is provided at a slow pace to patients who have genetic defects and a history of mold illness.
- Treating MARCoNS (Multiple Antibiotic Resistant Coagulase Negative Staphylococci): Diagnosis of MARCoNS is done by nasal swab that is sent to the lab for culture. If positive, the patient it treated with BEG (Bacitracin/EDTA/Gentamycin) or BEC (Bacitracin/EDTA/Clindamycin) nasal spray.
- Vasoactive Intestinal Peptide (VIP): VIP helps to repair the chronic inflammatory damage caused by mold illness and Lyme disease. It reverses the inflammatory pathways making the patients become less reactive to mold in future.
Exposure to Lyme and mold are common occurrences, but not all people will get affected. Patients who have strong immune system may be unaffected, but people with weakened immune system may become chronically ill.
Lyme disease and mold illness can trigger each other and can cause further complications. These conditions are highly dangerous when combined which affects the airway and immune system.
In conclusion, the harm caused by chronic Lyme disease causes mold illness to be more destructive. Similarly, when a patient has mold illness, they are further affected by Lyme disease.
It is also possible for a person who has recovered from Lyme disease, to have a recurrence of Lyme symptoms after being exposed to a water-damaged building with mold infestation. Taking appropriate steps to remove molds can prevent complications from chronic Lyme disease.