Your brain and spinal cord are protected by membranes or meninges that consist of three tissue layers, including the dura-mater, arachnoid-mater, and pia-mater. The dura-mater is the outer layer, and the pia-mater is the innermost layer.
The epidural, subdural, and subarachnoid spaces are between the three layers. Together, these layers and spaces support your central nervous system.
The Importance of the Meninges
Meninges are essential in protecting your brain and spinal cord. Without these layers, it would not take much to experience damage to the central nervous system. Here are some ways the meninges function:
- Absorbs the shock when you bump or get hit on the head
- Keeps your brain from detaching and moving inside your skull if you have head trauma.
- Supports blood vessels, spinal fluid, nerves, lymphatics, etc.
If the meninges are working correctly, everything is good. Unfortunately, many things can cause meninges to malfunction. A bacterial infection is one of the most common culprits, which can lead to meningitis. Lyme meningitis is one example.
What is Lyme Meningitis?
If a deer tick infected with Lyme disease bites you, it can transmit the Lyme bacteria into your bloodstream. The longer the bacteria stays in your system, the more it will multiply and spread throughout the body. Eventually, it may spread to your brain and spinal cord, which comprise the central nervous system. This means the bacteria are strong and smart enough to invade the meninges.
If the infected blood flows through the meninges, you are more susceptible to meningitis. Infected blood in this area leads to inflammation and can damage nerves and the brain if left untreated.
Lyme meningitis is rare, but it does occur enough that you want to seek treatment from a Lyme-literate doctor immediately after you suspect or have been diagnosed with Lyme disease. According to reports, about 15% of people with Lyme disease experience nervous system issues, with 6% developing Lyme meningitis.
What Are the Symptoms of Lyme Meningitis?
If you have Lyme disease, you have likely already been experiencing fatigue, headaches, chills, fever, muscle aches, and joint swelling. If Lyme disease progresses to meningitis, you can expect these symptoms to continue and worsen while new symptoms appear, such as:
- Muscle weakness
- Facial palsy (e.g., Bell’s palsy)
- Appetite changes
- Mood changes
- Joint stiffness
- Nerve pain
- Light sensitivity
- Visual disturbances
- Extremity numbness
- Extremity pain
It can take weeks or months for symptoms to appear. When they do, some doctors misdiagnose them for conditions with similar symptoms. Faulty testing methods only add to the problem of getting an accurate diagnosis.
How Do Doctors Diagnose Lyme Meningitis?
Diagnosing children with Lyme meningitis may be easier than for adults. Doctors use “The Rule of 7s” or the Avery equation as one tool among many to diagnose children. A child has a low risk for meningitis if they have had a headache for less than seven days, less than 70% mononuclear cells in CSF, and the absence of the 7th nerve, the cranial nerve, palsy.
Lyme-literate doctors can go beyond basic testing by using alternative methods to confirm a diagnosis. They may use one or more of the following:
- Blood extraction and analysis
- Cerebral fluid extraction and analysis
- White blood cell and platelet analysis
- Brain imaging
Researchers developed two types of meningitis, bacterial and aseptic.
Bacterial vs. Aseptic Meningitis
Bacterial meningitis is much more common than acute meningitis. Because it causes inflammation and swelling in the brain and central nervous system, blood flow is restricted. Not getting enough blood flowing to the brain can set you up for a stroke.
Risk factors for bacterial meningitis include misusing drugs and alcohol, frequent sinus infections, head injuries, and a weak immune system. Lyme disease is an auto-immune disorder that weakens the immune system, but that doesn’t guarantee you will get Lyme meningitis.
How Do Doctors Treat Lyme Meningitis?
Antibiotics are the first line of treatment for most doctors. However, Lyme-literate doctors administer antibiotics using intravenous methods. Doing so helps the total dose of antibiotics reach your bloodstream, where it can attack and destroy Lyme bacteria. Typically, antibiotics are prescribed for at least 21 days. Doxycycline is often used due to its strength and efficacy.
Aseptic meningitis mainly occurs in children under five who spend time among other children, like at daycare, but adults can contract it. Some cases may be mild and not need treatment, while others may need antibiotics.
How Do Lyme-Literate Doctors Treat Lyme Meningitis?
Lyme-literate doctors have advanced equipment in their clinics for using modern treatments. They have techniques that directly target bacteria in your blood, even the bacteria that have found ways to survive rounds of antibiotics.
They can perform intravenous antibiotic therapy plus the following for Lyme meningitis:
After collecting samples of your blood, your doctor will turn your blood into a medicine that builds your immunity and desensitizes your body’s response to Lyme bacteria.
- Low Dose Immunotherapy
Lyme disease triggers the immune system to be over-excited, causing continuous inflammation. Your doctor will use diluted antigens to trick your immune system into having a higher tolerance.
Therapeutic apheresis is extracting and replacing infected blood with donated, healthy blood. The process can be done for red and white blood cells and platelets.
- Neural Regeneration
If you experience damage to the protective nerve coverings in your brain or spinal cord, your doctor can perform procedures such as the CMP Forte to regenerate neural tissue. This will encourage nerve healing and growth.
Because you can acquire Lyme disease each time an infected tick bites you, it’s essential to know how to avoid Lyme disease altogether. If you go outside, wear protective clothing, including tops and bottoms covering your skin. Wear socks and shoes or boots when walking in high grasses, where ticks live. Spray tick repellant on you and your pets.
Shower and do a full-body tick check when you come in from the outdoors. Don’t forget to check your pet also. Research the places you visit outdoors to see if they are areas with high tick populations.
The more you know about Lyme disease, the higher your chances of avoiding it. Seek Lyme disease treatment from specialized doctors, even if that means traveling outside the United States or Canada.