How To Remove A Tick
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 completely may help you avoid diseases such as Lyme disease that the tick may pass on during feeding, or a skin infection where it bit you.
When you return home from areas where ticks might live, carefully examine your skin and scalp for ticks. Check your pets, too.
How to remove a tick
Use 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 could push infected fluid from the tick into your body if you squeeze it.
- Gently pull the tick straight out until its mouth lets go of your skin. Do not twist or "unscrew" the tick. This may separate the tick's head from its body and leave parts of its mouth in your skin.
- Put the tick in a dry jar or ziplock bag and save it in the freezer for later identification if necessary.
After the tick has been removed, wash the area of the tick bite with a lot of warm water and soap. A mild dishwashing soap, such as Ivory, works well. Be sure to wash your hands well with soap and water also.
NOTE: If you cannot remove a tick, call your doctor.
You can use an antibiotic ointment, such as polymyxin B sulfate (for example, Polysporin) or bacitracin. Put a little bit of ointment on the wound. The ointment will keep the wound from sticking to a bandage. If you get a skin rash or itching under the bandage, stop using the ointment. The rash may mean you had an allergic reaction to the ointment.
Some ticks are so small it is hard to see them. This makes it hard to tell if you have removed the tick's head. If you do not see any obvious parts of the tick's head where it bit you, assume you have removed the entire tick, but watch for symptoms of a skin infection. Symptoms of infection may include:
- Pain, swelling, redness, or warmth around the area.
- Red streaks leading from the area.
- Pus draining from the area.
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck, armpit, or groin.
- Fever or chills.
If you have a rash, headache, joint pain, fever, or flu-like symptoms, this could mean you have an illness related to a tick bite. If you have any of these symptoms, or symptoms of a skin infection, call your doctor.
What to avoid
Do not try to:
- Smother a tick that is stuck to your skin with petroleum jelly, nail polish, gasoline, or rubbing alcohol.
- Burn the tick while it is stuck to your skin.
Smothering or burning a tick could make it release fluid—which could be infected—into your body and increase your chance of infection.
There are some tick-removal devices that you can buy. If you are active outdoors in areas where there are a lot of ticks, you may want to consider buying such a device.
Other Works Consulted
- Gammons M, Salam G (2002). Tick removal. American Family Physician, 66(4): 643–646. Also available online: http://www.aafp.org/afp/20020815/643.html.
- Gentile DA, Lange JE (2001). Tick-borne diseases. In PS Auerbach, ed., Wilderness Medicine, 4th ed., pp. 769–806. St. Louis: Mosby.
|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