Light Therapy Suggestions for Lyme Disease Symptoms, Part 1
The list of symptoms associated with Lyme disease is insanely long. They come and go in cycles and they tend to be different from person to person. Furthermore, the presence of co-infections or pre-existing conditions can impact the symptoms you end up with. Fortunately, there are types of light therapy that can help improve some of the symptoms.
Below are some common symptoms of Lyme disease and suggestions for light therapy or sauna use that may help. Keep in mind that:
You should always consult a qualified physician before beginning any treatment for Lyme disease symptoms.
None of the information here is medical advice. Instead, it should serve as ideas for topics to discuss with your Lyme Literate MD (LLMD).
There are some situations where you should not use light therapy or a sauna.
Now, let’s get to how light therapy can help with some of the Lyme symptoms on the Lyme Master Symptom List.
Frequent Canker Sores (Mouth Ulcers)
Oh, those miserable little things! When I say “canker sores”, I mean those small, painful mouth ulcers you get on the insides of your cheeks, not cold sores, which are usually outside the mouth and are caused by a common herpes virus. (See the section on cold sores below.)
The good news is that the right kind of Low Level Light Therapy (LLLT) can help heal cankers sores faster and reduce pain- but only if they are in certain places. If they’re so far inside your mouth that the light can’t reach them, light therapy may not be able help.
Also, putting your light therapy bulb in your mouth is out of the question. Don’t do that! Most light therapy bulbs cannot come into contact with liquid or they will malfunction, shatter or combine with electricity to create an electrocution risk (just like anything else that’s electronic). I know it’s tempting to want to solve the many mouth, throat, sinus and dental problems from Lyme with light therapy, since it’s so effective for other conditions. But unless you’re using a device specifically made for internal use that is waterproof and sanitary (for example, one of those blue light therapy teeth-whitening lights that is meant to be held in the mouth or certain red/infrared light therapy nose clips), putting your bulb inside your mouth or any other orifice is a bad idea.
That said, if you have a powerful bulb that doesn’t require direct contact because it can penetrate through cheek tissue to reach the canker sore, shining it on the outside of the skin in the area of the sore can relieve some pain and speed up healing. Not sure if your bulb penetrates that far? Grab your bulb, shine it on your cheek and check in a mirror to see if you can see the light from the inside of your cheek. Or just try it out and see if it brings you any relief.
If it does relieve the pain from the canker sore, the effect will usually last a few hours. The good news is that using LLLT also speeds up healing time.
Frequent Cold Sores, Herpes Outbreaks, Shingles
There are several different herpes type viruses that infect humans. When your immune system is under siege from Lyme disease and co-infections, you may find that your body is having trouble keeping all those latent viruses under control. This means that cold sores and genital herpes outbreaks may become more frequent and you may suffer from herpes zoster, or “shingles”, a reactivation of the chicken pox virus many of us acquired as children.
Near infrared light therapy can help with the skin lesions these viruses cause. So can red light therapy. However, it’s important to remember that you should not try to use a light therapy bulb in any area that isn’t dry and external to the body. See explanation under “Frequent Cold Sores” above.
Another important note is that you should avoid exposing sores from these types of viruses to ultraviolet (UV) light. UV light is known to activate the virus, which will make the problem worse.
Avoid ultraviolet (UV) light reaching the cold sore outbreak area, as this may worsen the outbreak.
Cold Hands and Feet/Low Body Temperature
Get yourself a nice, warm near infrared bulb of sufficient strength (generally, it needs to be at least 250W to be effective) and it will easily bring the warmth back to your cold hands and feet.
For Warmth and to Encourage Healthy Circulation, Try: Near Infrared Light Therapy
When Lyme Worsens Seasonal Allergies, Allergic Rhinitis, Etc.
Near infrared light plus heat can ease sinus and ear pain from allergies. Red light therapy can help reduce inflammation, ease pain and promote healing to the area. To use a red or near infrared light therapy bulb for rhinitis, sinus infections, seasonal or inhalant allergies, direct the bulb towards the area that is the source of your discomfort. This could be the nose, upper sinuses, ears or elsewhere. Despite the fact that there is significant bone around the sinuses, you can still benefit from the treatments.
For allergies originating in the gut, a hot near infrared bulb shining on the abdomen can help bring healing blood flow to the region. See Part 2 of my LLLT recommendations for Lyme disease symptoms for more possibilities and information.
Whole-body near infrared light therapy would by my top pick for improving fatigue. It provides energy to the mitochondria of your cells which means more energy overall for you.
My next choices would be near infrared or red light therapy used on the thyroid area.
For mental fatigue, I’ve found that using a heat-producing near infrared bulb on the right side of my forehead and sometimes on the neck does wonders for my mental energy levels.
Some Lyme sufferers have flu-like symptoms that continue or recur after the initial infection.
For body and muscle aches and pains, near infrared light therapy can be helpful, especially when it’s from a bulb that produces warmth as well.
Ear, nose and throat issues would likely benefit from near infrared or red light therapy.
This is one of the Lyme symptoms I hated the most. After I got Lyme, tons of my hair started falling out in my hands. The hair I did have left was brittle and unhealthy.
After using a sauna for 5-20 minutes every other day for two or three weeks, my hair stopped falling out. It began to grow back in. I was pretty excited about this. I also learned that I needed to wrap my hair in a towel or the repeated exposure to heat would damage it.
Near infrared and red light are also well-known to cause hair growth in general. They make hair grow faster and make it come in thicker. In fact, this is usually listed as a negative side effect because the user may not want increased hair growth in the area they’re treating. However, if you’re looking to improve hair growth, light therapy is obviously a good bet.
Low Blood Pressure
If you have blood pressure abnormalities, it is especially important to check with your doctor before beginning to use a sauna (which is what I am about to suggest- near infrared sauna use). Subjecting yourself to high temperatures is going to raise your blood pressure.
Because low blood pressure can be associated with fainting and that would be extremely dangerous if you were alone in the sauna and fainted, consider using the sauna with another person or asking someone nearby to check in on you during the sauna session. (There are other reasons a person with Lyme might become disoriented in a sauna. Although it’s rare, sometimes the release of toxins or psychedelic drugs from previous use stored in fat tissue can cause disorientation, fainting or even a second trip. Make sure it’s a bon voyage!).
For Low Blood Pressure, Try: Near Infrared Sauna using Near Infrared Bulbs
Increased Susceptibility to Infections
There’s no doubt that Lyme batters the immune system, making you susceptible to infection in general.
If you have an infection on the surface of the skin, you may be able to use blue light therapy to destroy bacteria on the surface. You could also use red or near infrared light to speed up healing in the area.
For infections that are not on the skin, regular sauna bathing can be a powerful tool. Raising the body’s temperature helps it fight infections in a few different ways. It is a bit like inducing a temporary, artificial fever. The immune system activation triggered by a fever can also be triggered by sauna use. And just the act of raising the body’s temperature makes it difficult for many microbes to survive and reproduce.
For Susceptibility to Infections, Try: Near Infrared Sauna using Near Infrared Bulbs.
It seems like the thyroid controls pretty much everything. Unfortunately, Lyme likes to infect the thyroid, causing inflammation (thyroiditis), low thyroid function (hypothyroidism) or even autoimmune thyroid conditions like Hashimoto’s.
What’s worse is that with your thyroid on the fritz, your body will struggle to get enough energy and immune function will become even more weak.
The good news is, using light therapy on your thyroid is easy to do and it can really help with thyroid problems. You can use a red or near infrared light directed at the thyroid (which is right in the area of your Adam’s apple on your neck) to help support healthy thyroid function.
For this, I usually use red or near infrared 2-3 times a day, with at least a couple hours in between uses. I tend to favor an incandescent near infrared bulb for this, since the heat encourages blood flow to the neck and ultimately, the increased blood flow helps me think more clearly and stave off depression (in addition to boosting my thyroid function). It also has a nice renewing effect on the skin of the neck.
For Thyroid Problems, Try: Near Infrared Sauna using Near Infrared Bulbs or Near Infrared Light Therapy Alone or Red Light Therapy
Brain Fog and Other Mental, Neurological and Psychiatric Symptoms
Brain-related symptoms can be the most frustrating symptoms of Lyme, often making it impossible to work, study or even manage the tasks of daily living, like following the instructions on a frozen pizza box.
For someone whose pleasure in life mainly comes from her ability to think, learn, imagine and invent, the brain fog and other neurological (and mental) effects of Lyme were crushing. I couldn’t stand it, so I went to war on the Lyme in my brain, using every tack I could come up with to fight it. One of the most effective therapies I found was EEG neurofeedback. It was truly a game-changer in my life. The trouble with neurofeedback, though, is that it’s expensive, it’s hard to find a good practitioner and it may be hard to find any practitioner at all depending on where you live.
As I’ve said before, no matter how much money you have, Lyme can take care of that for you. As I’m sure everyone with chronic tick-borne disease is aware, the money drain isn’t just to treat the Lyme. You end up spending money on things that will help you have some semblance of a normal life and help you keep your sanity. With all that in mind, I decided I needed to find a treatment related to neurofeedback that I could use at home on a daily basis in between treatments.
I began researching therapies similar to neurofeedback and that’s how I learned about hemoencephalography. Hemoencephalography is based on increasing blood flow to the parts of the brain that lack it. I came up with the theory that perhaps I could use a heat-producing near infrared light therapy bulb to achieve the same goal. The heat would encourage blood flow and the light would provide additional energy to my mitochondria…I hoped. I still needed to try it for myself.
I felt confident about trying my idea out because I’d used human-grade near infrared incandescent bulbs on my head before. I knew they were very relaxing, but I’d never paid attention to whether they would have other effects depending on where I aimed the light. I knew from a previous EEG what areas of my brain were dead zombie zones, so I knew exactly where I needed to increase blood flow.
I focused my light therapy bulb on those areas and it did seem to have an effect within 5-10 minutes. It definitely eased depression, brain fog and made it much easier to focus. The effect seemed to last a few hours. I immediately started using the light several times a day. The difference that it makes for me makes me feel that it is well worth the inconvenience.
I noticed that if I used the light on parts of my head that had been shown to have normal activity on my EEG, I would get a mild headache after a few minutes. Stopping use reversed the headache a few minutes later.
I have tried using an LED bulb in place of the incandescent near infrared bulb and it does help, but I prefer the addition of heat. It is extra effective in increasing blood flow.
In my case, using the light on my forehead in the center or to the right side relieves depression, improves focus and makes me feel more awake, energetic and less spacey.
If I use the bulb on any part of my neck, I get more mental energy and feel less foggy.
When using it on the very top of my head, towards the back, I feel more focused.
If I use it on the side of my head around my ear, it sometimes can improve anxiety.
For problems with muscle movement and coordination, I use it on the sensorimotor cortex areas- you can see where these are located in this diagram, where they are colored blue, green and orange
One thing I do want to point out is that when it comes to positioning the light, what works for one person may not work for another. Each individual’s brain is different, sites of Lyme infection are different and the interference of co-infections and other health conditions means that the ideal light positioning is going to vary in every case. It can even differ over time in the same person (as Lyme infections are known to travel throughout the body and move around a lot).
It may take some experimenting to figure out what works best. What’s clear is that no matter what, it should not hurt or be uncomfortable. If you notice you’re feeling somewhat irritated or agitated after starting a treatment, or if you feel a headache coming on, stop and turn your lamp off. You’ve picked the wrong spot to focus on or you may have let your session overrun by a long time.
Always listen to your body. Light therapy is not supposed to hurt at any point during treatment. It’s supposed to make you feel better, not worse.
My Lyme symptoms have always been mostly neurological, with collagen and skin problems being secondary. But I did have some joint pain, which I know that many people with Lyme have.
My understanding is that much of the joint pain affects larger joints, such as the knees, hips or shoulder. Red or near infrared light therapy can absolutely help temporarily relieve this type of joint pain, usually for a few hours. Repeated use will help speed up healing, but don’t forget that in general, larger joints take a “long time” to heal, especially if they are further away from the heart and/or weight-bearing (such as the knees). It could take consistent use over the course of months to achieve a substantial, noticeable improvement.
Smaller joint pain in areas that are closer to the surface and/or closer to the heart, such as hand and finger joint pain (which I had as a result of mold toxicity) will get quicker relief.
The things that I really love about light therapy for joint pain are that it brings relief fast and using it isn’t incompatible with most pain relief medications or anti-inflammatories.
While some people prefer to use amber or yellow light therapy (in place of red or near infrared) because they feel it is more gentle, I don’t think amber light therapy would penetrate deep enough to benefit a large joint like a hip or knee.
If heat would bring additional pain relief, an incandescent near infrared bulb would be the best choice.
Numbness, Tingling or Neuropathy-Type Itching and Pain
Whether light therapy can help with sensations of numbness, tingling, itching and neuropathic pain depends on what is causing them.
If these problems are true neuropathy, they are caused by nerve damage. Lyme infection can damage the nerves, resulting in the classic neuropathy feelings of intense itching, numbness or pain. Repairing nerve damage is no easy task for anyone, much less for someone still struggling with the infection that caused it. Using light therapy to help the body recover can help, but for most, repairing this damage is going to take some time.
Sometimes, numbness, tingling, itching and pain that mimics neuropathy can occur for other reasons. For instance, I have heard some people have these sensations only temporarily in an area the Lyme bacteria are present. In these cases, bringing fresh blood flow to the region can be helpful.
As we all know, Lyme can cause some really weird problems. Personally, I started having intense, deep tissue itching in my right hand soon after having a bullseye rash there. The problem would come and go for years and sometimes my left hand would itch as well. I began using near infrared light therapy on it and for now at least, the itching is mostly gone. Since it wasn’t constant to begin with, it’s hard to know whether it’s gone for good or not, though.
In some unusual cases, the body’s efforts to repair nerve damage can be quite uncomfortable and rarely, it can even hurt. In these cases, light therapy should be discontinued.
To Be Continued
Since the list of Lyme symptoms is so long, I have broken this article into two parts. Click here for Part 2 of my light therapy suggestions for some of the symptoms shown on the Lyme Master Symptom List.