If left untreated, Lyme disease can cause significant health issues, including nerve pain, arthritis, and cognitive and neurological problems.
It’s important to get a diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible, before more severe Lyme disease symptoms develop.
Using Antibiotics to Treat Lyme Disease
Lyme disease is typically treated with antibiotics, although the type of antibiotic used depends on what stage of the disease you have.
After you remove a deer tick that has been attached to you for at least 36 hours — the amount of time it takes for the tick to transmit the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi — there’s a 72-hour window during which your doctor may give you a single dose of the antibiotic doxycycline to prevent the development of Lyme disease. (1) Doxycycline is prescribed to patients age 8 and older, except for pregnant women.
If you already have stage 1 (localized) or stage 2 (early disseminated) Lyme disease with the telltale bull’s-eye rash but no other significant symptoms, your doctor will most likely treat you with oral doxycycline, amoxicillin, or cefuroxime for 14 to 21 days.
But if you have meningitis or nerve issues from early Lyme disease, your treatment will require taking intravenous ceftriaxone for 14 days. (2)
Stage 3 (late disseminated) Lyme disease is also treated with various antibiotics:
- For Lyme disease that causes arthritis, 28 days of oral doxycycline, amoxicillin, or cefuroxime is prescribed. Additional courses of antibiotics may be necessary, depending on the severity and persistence of your symptoms.
- For Lyme disease affecting the nervous system (late neurologic Lyme disease), two to four weeks of intravenous ceftriaxone or penicillin is prescribed. (3)
Common side effects associated with most antibiotics include gastrointestinal problems, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Allergic reactions can also occur, especially with medications derived from penicillin or sulfa. These reactions can range from a mild rash to anaphylactic shock. Some drugs can interact with antibiotics, so patients should tell their doctors about any medications they are taking.