Finding a tick attached to your body may make you feel squeamish, but don’t panic. Knowing how to remove a tick — and how to avoid a bite in the first place — can help you safely enjoy the great outdoors.
“We’ve seen a steady increase in ticks and tick-borne illnesses, like Lyme disease, in Pennsylvania,” says Dr. Gary Wright, a family medicine provider at Geisinger. “But not every tick carries Lyme disease, and a bite doesn’t mean you automatically have it.”
Lyme disease is spread through the bite of a black-legged tick, also known as a deer tick. Symptoms include fever, fatigue, headache and a bull’s eye rash.
Most often, Lyme disease is successfully treated with a round of antibiotics and goes away after a few weeks. However, in some cases, fatigue and muscle aches can last up to six months.
“This is why it’s critical to properly remove a tick as soon as you find it,” adds Dr. Wright. “The risk of tick-borne illness rises the longer the tick is attached to you.”
Step-by-step: Removing a tick
If you’ve returned home from spending time outdoors and found a tick on yourself or a loved one, you’ll want to remove it right away. Follow these steps:
Step one: Find your tweezers
Have a special tick-removal tool? Great. If not, a clean pair of tweezers will do just fine.
“Tweezers or a tick-removal tool are best,” adds Dr. Wright. “Don’t use nail polish, petroleum jelly or a burning match to kill or remove a tick. These methods can agitate the tick and make it burrow deeper.”
Step two: Grasp the tick firmly close to your skin and pull upward in a steady motion
This gives you the best chance of removing the entire tick on the first try. If you can still see mouthparts in the skin after your first attempt, try to remove them again. If you can’t, leave them there and let the skin heal.
Step three: Clean the affected skin
Use soap and water, rubbing alcohol or an iodine scrub to disinfect the area where the tick was attached. Don’t forget to wash your hands, too.
Step four: Dispose of the tick
Place it in a sealed bag or container, flush it down the toilet, wrap it in tape or dunk it in rubbing alcohol.
“Never crush a tick with your fingers,” adds Dr. Wright. “This can increase your risk of being infected with a tick-borne illness.”
Monitor for symptoms and take precautions
After removing a tick, monitor your health and watch for any signs or symptoms. Typically, if you’ve been infected with Lyme disease, you’ll develop a rash a few days after the tick bite. The rash will start at the site of infection and spread outward, sometimes in the shape of a bull’s eye.
“The rash is a telltale sign of Lyme disease because it occurs in 70 to 80 percent of infected people,” adds Dr. Wright. “Beyond that, other signs to look for include fever, chills, headache, fatigue and joint aches and pains.”
If you notice any symptoms or have concerns, contact your doctor.
“To prevent tick bites, apply insect repellants to clothing or any exposed skin before heading outdoors, wear long pants and long sleeves and stick to the center of hiking trails,” says Dr. Wright. “Always check for ticks on your body, your kids and your pets — and remove them as soon as possible.”