Ticks are small spiderlike animals (arachnids) that bite to fasten themselves onto the skin and feed on blood. Ticks live in the fur and feathers of many birds and animals. Tick bites occur most often during early spring to late summer and in areas where there are many wild animals and birds.
Most ticks do not carry diseases, and most tick bites do not cause serious health problems. But it is important to remove a tick as soon as you find it. Removing the tick's body helps you avoid diseases the tick may pass on during feeding. Removing the tick's head helps prevent an infection in the skin where it bit you. See the Home Treatment section of this topic for the best way to remove a tick.
Usually, removing the tick, washing the site of the bite, and watching for signs of illness are all that is needed. When you have a tick bite, it is important to determine whether you need a tetanus shot to prevent tetanus (lockjaw).
Some people may have an allergic reaction to a tick bite. This reaction may be mild, with a few annoying symptoms. In rare cases, a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) may occur.
Many of the diseases ticks carry cause flu-like symptoms, such as fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, and muscle aches. Symptoms may begin from 1 day to 3 weeks after the tick bite. Sometimes a rash or sore appears along with the flu-like symptoms. Common tick-borne diseases include:
- Lyme disease .
- Rocky Mountain spotted fever .
- Tularemia .
- Ehrlichiosis .
- Relapsing fever .
- Colorado tick fever .
- Babesiosis .
Use the Check Your Symptoms section to decide if and when you should see a doctor.
There are several things you can do to protect yourself from the diseases ticks may carry. The sooner ticks are removed, the less likely they are to spread disease.
fine-tipped tweezers to remove a tick. If you don't
have tweezers, put on gloves or cover your hands with tissue paper, then use
your fingers. Do not handle the tick with bare hands.
- Grab the tick as close to its mouth (the part that is stuck in your skin) as you can. The body of the tick will be above your skin.
- Do not grab the tick around its bloated belly. You might push infected fluid from the tick into your body if you squeeze it.
- Pull the tick straight out until its mouth lets go of your skin. Do not twist or "unscrew" the tick. This may separate the head from the body.
- Do not try to smother a tick that is attached to your skin with petroleum jelly, nail polish, gasoline, or rubbing alcohol. This may increase your risk of infection.
- Do not try to burn the tick while it is attached to your skin.
- Put the tick in a dry jar or ziplock bag and save it in the freezer for later identification if necessary.
- Wash the area of the tick bite with a lot of warm water and soap. A mild dishwashing soap, such as Ivory, works well.
- If a bite becomes irritated, apply an antibiotic ointment, such as bacitracin or polymyxin B sulfate, and cover it with an adhesive bandage. The ointment will keep the bite from sticking to the bandage. Note: Stop using the ointment if the skin under the bandage begins to itch or a rash develops. The ointment may be causing a skin reaction.
- After you remove the tick, wash your hands really well with soap and water.
When you return home from areas where ticks might live, carefully examine your skin and scalp for ticks. Check your pets, too.
Home treatment to help relieve pain and itching
- Apply an ice pack to your bite for 15 to 20 minutes once an hour for the first 6 hours. When you are not using ice, keep a cool, wet cloth on the bite for up to 6 hours.
- Try a nonprescription medicine for the relief of itching,
redness, and swelling. Be sure to follow the
nonprescription medicine precautions.
- An antihistamine medicine, such as Benadryl or Chlor-Trimeton, may help relieve itching, redness, and swelling. Don't give antihistamines to your child unless you've checked with the doctor first.
- A spray of local anesthetic containing benzocaine, such as Solarcaine, may help relieve pain. If your skin reacts to the spray, stop using it.
- Calamine lotion applied to the skin may help relieve itching.
- After the first 6 hours, if there is no swelling, try putting a warm washcloth on the bite for comfort.
|Try a nonprescription medicine to help treat your fever or pain:|
Talk to your child’s doctor before switching back and forth between doses of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. When you switch between two medicines, there is a chance your child will get too much medicine.
|Be sure to follow these safety tips when you use a nonprescription medicine:|
Symptoms to Watch For During Home Treatment
Use the Check Your Symptoms section to evaluate your symptoms if any of the following occur during home treatment:
To prevent tick bites:
- Apply an insect repellent. Use insect repellents according to the directions on the label, particularly when applying repellent to children.
Apply repellents safely. Some insect repellents can
only be safely applied to clothing rather than skin.
- Use a lower-concentration repellent on children.
- Do not put repellent on small children's hands, since they often put their hands in their mouths.
- Wash the insect repellent off with soap and water after returning indoors.
- Cover as much of your skin as possible when working or playing in grassy or wooded areas. Wear a hat, a long-sleeved shirt, and long pants with the legs tucked into your socks. Keep in mind that it is easier to spot ticks on light-colored clothes. If you think you may have a tick on your clothing, put your clothing in a clothes dryer for 10 to 15 minutes to kill the tick.
- Wear gloves when you handle animals or work in the woods.
- Take steps to control ticks on your property if you live in an area where Lyme disease is prevalent. Clearing leaves, brush, tall grasses, woodpiles, and stone fences from around your house and the edges of your yard or garden may help reduce the tick population and the rodent population that the ticks depend on. Remove plants that attract deer, and use barriers to keep deer—and the deer ticks they may carry—out of your yard. Treating yards with chemicals that kill ticks (ascaricides) is sometimes effective but exposes you and your pets to chemicals that may not be safe. You may choose to treat your lawn for ticks with nonchemical or environmentally safe methods instead. Call your local landscaping nursery or county extension office for more information.
- Stay away from tick-infested areas.
For information on how to specifically prevent Lyme disease, see the topic Lyme Disease.
Preparing For Your Appointment
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the following questions:
- When were you bitten? How many times were you bitten? If you saved the tick, bring it with you to your doctor's appointment. If not, be prepared to describe the tick.
- What are your main symptoms?
- When did your symptoms begin? How have your symptoms developed, progressed, or changed since the bite?
- What home treatment have you tried? Did it help?
- When was your last tetanus shot?
- Have you traveled in the wilderness or in another country recently?
- Do you have any health risks?
|Author||Jan Nissl, RN, BS|
|Editor||Susan Van Houten, RN, BSN, MBA|
|Associate Editor||Tracy Landauer|
|Primary Medical Reviewer||Martin Gabica, MD - Family Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||Sean P. Bush - Emergency Medicine, Envenomation Specialist|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine|
|Last Updated||January 13, 2010|
Last Updated: January 13, 2010