How Does the Weather Affect Lyme Patients?

As Brits, one of our national pastimes seems to be complaining about the weather; it rarely seems to please us! One minute it’s too hot, the next it’s too cold and gloomy. When it comes to Lyme disease and some other chronic illnesses as well, the weather seems to play a significant part in how sufferers feel.

We wanted to get a sense of how the weather affects those in our Online Community. Some of us (myself included) are jetting off to grab some extra sun during the summer months in the hope that dry heat will help to prevent flare ups in symptoms. For some, sunshine is the best medicine for the mind, body and spirit. Some people have either considered buying or a property abroad or gone ahead and bought a place in a warmer climate in order to escape the cold and damp British winters and others choose to go abroad for treatment during the months when the climate at home does not suit them as well.

Others prefer cooler days and go in search of shade during the summer. This can be demoralising for those who love the sun but whose bodies have become heat intolerant since contracting Lyme disease. Some Lyme disease therapies actually involve heat, the theory being that the bacteria cannot survive high temperatures. Many people use saunas as a form of detox which in turn can cause die-off symptoms. I get far more head pressure and gastrointestinal symptoms when I am in intense heat whereas before becoming unwell, I would be able to sit out for a solid 8 hours in 40°C heat during my family holidays to Turkey. Now, I can hack about an hour before I find myself retreating to the shade as I tend to feel dizzy, weak, nauseous and achy I tend to experience stomach aches and severe headaches. I feel best when I am warm or what I like to call my ‘ok temperature’ but this is never an easy goal to achieve as my core temperature can fluctuate by 4°C within one day. I feel this is due to the infections’ effect on my temperature regulation system, if I eat foods which disagree with me or simply due to whatever is going on with the weather outside.

Temperature dysregulation makes packing for trips extremely challenging and even deciding what to wear on a daily basis is hard, especially as my clothes always need to be loose because of skin rashes, itchiness, muscle and joint pain. Even if I am heading to the airport to catch a flight to a warm country, I have to prepare myself for the powerful air-conditioning at the airport and being blasted by cold air on the plane. I have to ensure that I have something warm covering my legs and a thick jumper on too. Once on the plane, I find myself asking for blankets and borrowing my brother’s and dad’s oversized clothing to keep me warm. Whilst everyone around me remains in their shorts and t-shirts, I am the girl doing a quick change in the airport toilets upon arrival because I have gone from shivering uncontrollably to knowing I will be sweating buckets as soon as I step outside the airport terminal.

For many Lyme disease sufferers, extreme heat and cold appear to cause adverse effects. I LOVE summer and mood-wise I am far happier in the heat and the sunlight. However, at the years roll on, I am only able to tolerate a small ‘dose’ of sun and extreme heat. It’s the same on the opposite end of the scale. Freezing cold temperatures and gusts of wind can cause major problems as I become unable to control my body temperature and it takes me far longer than normal to warm up. In what healthy people consider to be warm weather, I will be wearing a scarf and a thick coat just to keep my temperature up. I used to feel embarrassed going out in my arctic gear when everyone else was in shorts and t-shirts but I have reached a point where I am so affected by the unpredictable symptoms I experience as a result of the weather, I am past caring what I look like even if I am wearing a hoodie when it’s 26°C outside!

I find that the cold winter weather leads to far more joint and muscle pain in my case. This could partly be due to the fact that I am so tense when I am unable to warm up and so I tighten up everywhere. I spend most of the winter wrapped up in a ball. It’s miserable being unable to warm up and even an extremely hot bath only provides temporary relief. During the cold weather, events and outings tend to be short and sweet. Even writing and typing can be hard when your hands are frozen stiff and it’s never fun when your feet feel like ice blocks. It’s hard to find the motivation to get moving even though we all know that movement is good not only for our physical health but for our mental health as well. The dark and gloomy days often feel like they drag on forever.

So what is the best climate for Lyme disease sufferers? I think the simple answer is that we gravitate towards climates which keeps our flare ups at bay or which improve our overall sense of well-being. We all know we can’t control the weather and any symptoms associated with what’s going on outside but there are various coping strategies such as buying a place in the sun, going for treatment aboard at a time when the British climate isn’t suiting us, wearing warmer clothes (even if it means looking silly!) wrapping up warm at home, staying in the shade and using heat lamps. Over time, we identify our triggers and learn how to adapt in order to limit flare ups.

So, whatever climate and weather works for you, continue thinking of ways to adapt your life so that you can make things easier and it’s worth logging any symptom changes when there are changes in the weather or you change climates just in case there are any patterns.

Sophie Ward.