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
Most ticks don't carry diseases, and most tick bites don't
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 Home Treatment 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
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:
Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness in or
around the area.
Red streaks leading from the area.
Pus draining from the area.
Tick paralysis is a rare reaction to
the venom that some ticks release when they bite. Symptoms usually start 4 to 7
days after a tick attaches to your body and may include:
Tingling, numbness, or loss of feeling or movement
that starts in your hands or feet.
Trouble swallowing or
Loss of movement in your
Removing the tick stops the release of the venom and reverses
You may need a tetanus shot depending
on how dirty the wound is and how long it has been since your last shot.
For a dirty wound that has
things like dirt, saliva, or feces in it, you may need a shot if:
You haven't had a tetanus shot in the past 5
You don't know when your last shot was.
For a clean wound, you may
need a shot if:
You have not had a tetanus shot in the past 10
You don't know when your last shot was.
Symptoms of a severe allergic reaction
(anaphylaxis) may include:
The sudden appearance of raised, red areas (hives)
all over the body.
Rapid swelling of the throat, mouth, or tongue.
A severe reaction can be life-threatening. If you have had a
bad allergic reaction to a substance before and are exposed to it again, treat
any symptoms as an emergency. Even if the symptoms are mild at first, they may
quickly become very severe.
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and
illness. Some examples in adults are:
Diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease,
Long-term alcohol and drug
Steroid medicines, which may be used to treat a variety
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy for
Other medicines used to treat autoimmune
Medicines taken after organ transplant.
having a spleen.
Seek Care Now
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Call your doctor now to discuss the symptoms and
arrange for care.
If you cannot reach your doctor or you don't have
one, seek care in the next hour.
You do not need to call an
You cannot travel safely either by driving
yourself or by having someone else drive you.
You are in an area
where heavy traffic or other problems may slow you down.
Most ticks don't carry diseases, and most tick bites don't cause
serious health problems. The sooner
ticks are removed, the less likely they are to spread
Some ticks are so small that it is hard to see them. This makes it hard to
tell whether you have removed the tick's head. If you do not see any obvious
parts of the tick's head in the bite site, assume you have removed the entire
tick, but watch for
signs of a skin infection.
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.
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
Wash the area of the tick bite with a lot of warm water
and soap. A mild dishwashing soap, such as Ivory, works well.
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.
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
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
Aspirin (also a nonsteroidal
anti-inflammatory drug), such as Bayer or Bufferin
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:
Carefully read and follow all
directions on the medicine bottle and box.
insect repellent safely. Use insect repellents according to
the directions on the label, particularly when applying repellent to
Use a lower-concentration repellent on
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
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
Stay away from tick-infested areas.
For information on how to specifically prevent Lyme disease,
see the topic
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.