Why Testing for Mold Can Always Benefit Someone Struggling With Chronic Lyme Disease

by Dr. Susan Tanner, MD

When it comes to mold illness and patients who also have been diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease, separating which illness is causing what symptoms can be quite difficult. Additionally, just as there are many physicians who do not believe that mold and mycotoxins can make you ill, the medical knowledge and beliefs about Lyme disease are, unfortunately, equally lacking.

Acute vs. Chronic Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is caused by the bacteria, borrelia burgdorferi, which is carried in the stomachs of infected deer or black-legged ticks. When a tick feeds on the blood of an infected host animal, the tick ingests the pathogen and also becomes infected. Then, if infected tick bites a human, the bacteria can enter the human’s bloodstream, and if not treated immediately, be spread throughout their body.

First, it is important to be clear that there is a big difference between acute Lyme disease and the chronic form of the illness. Acute Lyme disease usually presents with a known history of a tick bite, the emergence of the characteristic “bull’s-eye” rash, and a course of fever and malaise that can last for days or weeks. Acute Lyme is typically treated with antibiotics, primarily tetracycline, and then assumed to be gone after the 10 days of antibiotic treatment is complete.

Chronic Lyme disease, on the other hand, can differ from person-to-person in how it presents and in how it is treated. The following is a list of things that distinguish chronic Lyme in both symptomology and treatment:

  1. Often no known history of a tick bite and no memory of a rash;

(Note: Deer ticks are tiny, about the size of the head of a pin, so a bite can occur with no knowledge of such.)

  1. Delayed onset of symptoms, sometimes by months or even years, and even if there are symptoms, they can be so nonspecific, that individuals may think they have the flu, or some other virus. Sometimes the primary symptom is joint pain and patients are treated for arthritis;
  2. As time goes on, if left untreated, the bacteria can imbed itself deeper and deeper in tissues. This can cause more chronic symptoms that can affect patients neurologically, mimicking multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, and psychiatric disorders;
  3. When Lyme is finally diagnosed, treatment may involve months of intravenous and oral antibiotics and eradication at this point becomes more difficult.

Is it Lyme or Mold? And, What is the Difference?

When patients come to us with multi-system symptoms and a history of unexplainable, progressively deteriorating health, we as physicians are faced with the task of determining which was the primary assault, was it mold or Lyme? This chicken or the egg scenario becomes even more difficult to sort out when you recognize that either illness can make the immune system so dysfunctional that succumbing to the other can then occur. Put simply, living in a moldy home can make a latent Lyme infection come out of hiding, just like an active Lyme infection can make a patient react times 1,000 to a moldy environment.

What we do know, though, is that in order to get well from any chronic illness, you must have “clean air, clean food, and clean water” as the foundations of any treatment plan. Thus, if there is mold in the patient’s home or workspace or on their personal belongings, then that must be addressed first in order for them to get better, regardless of the initial assault on the system. What we also know is that toxic mold causes huge immune system disruption, whether Lyme is also on board or not. So, while it is entirely possible that Lyme could be an unknown infection, and then becomes active and problematic when mold sparks chronic inflammation and immune suppression, I always err on the side of putting mold testing at the forefront. Why? Because, in my practice, I have seen that if you address and eliminate the mold from the picture, the other infections and immune system issues are much more easily dealt with. Therefore, it is of paramount importance, in my opinion, that mold testing be done in any chronic illness situation.

Differences in Lyme and Mold Testing Methodologies

In previous articles we have talked about testing the home and nasal passages for mold spores, and labs and urine testing for mycotoxins produced by mold. Lyme testing requires blood and very specific methodologies, none of which are perfect. The simple antibody test is often negative in chronic Lyme disease cases. The Western Blot test for Lyme disease looks at bands of specific proteins contained by the borrelia bacteria; there are 14 of these tested on the test. The CDC has determined that if you have at least 4 bands positive, then a diagnosis of Lyme disease can be made. But, then, the question remains, what if there are 3 bands, or 2 bands, what does this mean?

Chronic Lyme Disease Treatment

In cases where a Western Blot test is not definitive, it truly takes careful interpretation of the lab work, along with a very thorough history from the patient to determine if Lyme is, indeed, the culprit. Even if a Lyme diagnosis is made, keep in mind that treatments are individualized for each patient. There is definitely not a “one-size-fits-all” approach when it comes to the use of antibiotics vs. herbal formulas—both can be effective, depending on the person and their individual symptoms. Patients with more severe symptoms, especially neurologic in nature, will very likely receive more aggressive treatment. Further, it is often the patient’s response to the treatment that lets the treating physician know if they are the right track.

All the while, if using antibiotics, attention must be paid to systemic overgrowth of mold or candida. This includes making sure a patient is living in an environment with clean air and low mold counts, making sure a patient is eating a proper diet to not foster the growth of yeast, and suggesting natural dietary antifungal therapies, like CitriDrops Dietary Supplement, as well as nasal rinsing with the CitriDrops to prevent inhalational exposure to mold spores. The goal is to prevent the antibiotics from disrupting the bacterial balance in the gut where yeast can overgrow and become pathogenic. If Candida/yeast overgrowth occurs, patients will not respond well to any treatment, or may have an initial beneficial response and then get much worse. Thus, it makes sense to strengthen the immune system in every way possible, so that the body can fight off infection with as few drugs as possible. To maximize immune function and resistance to Lyme bacteria, there are also certain types of immunotherapies that can be used to help the body mount a positive response to the infection, thus avoiding or at least, minimizing the use of antibiotic therapy. Sinus Defense is actually one of these therapies as it contains Transfer Factor to transfer and strengthen innate immunity to a wide variety of environmental allergens, bacteria, and viruses.

For additional help and information, there is an organization, the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS), which is comprised of doctors, patients and researchers dedicated to the knowledge and treatment of Lyme disease. Their work has been very important, and several doctors within this organization have written books and devised protocols for effective treatment. While these dedicated people have made many of us more “Lyme literate”, I do believe that the emphasis on clean environment and eradication of mold cannot be overstated. If you have been diagnosed with Lyme, especially chronic Lyme disease, please evaluate your home, car, nose and belongings to be sure you do not have a dual problem making healing a harder goal to achieve.

Have you been affected by Lyme disease? Did it only become problematic after living or working in a moldy environment? We want to hear from you. Please comment below or write to us at newsletter@sinusitiswellness.com.