What Are Tick Bites?
A tick bite is the direct result of an attack by a tick. Ticks are small brown parasites (arachnids) that live in wooded areas and fields. These organisms need blood from humans or animals to survive. Ticks attach to your skin and suck your blood. Unfortunately, ticks also tend to be carriers of diseases and can pass these diseases on to the people they bite.
Unlike other blood-sucking creatures, such as mosquitoes, ticks can be difficult to locate and remove. If a tick infects you with a disease, you will need to seek medical attention.
While there is no sure way to avoid all tick bites, there are certain precautions you can take to prevent these bites and any subsequent diseases.
Tick bites cause irritating red marks on the skin, but most bites do not require medical treatment on their own. However, you never know if the tick that bit you was carrying a disease. Some of the most common tick-borne diseases include:
- Lyme disease
- Rocky Mountain spotted fever
Lyme disease is the most common condition associated with tick bites. It causes a red bump with rings around it. Lyme disease ultimately causes an infection that can spread to your joints, central nervous system, and heart.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever is the second most common tick-bite-related disease. This condition causes multiple red bumps around your wrists and ankles.
All tick-bite-related diseases can cause flu-like symptoms, such as:
- high fever
- excessive fatigue
- severe headache
- muscle aches
- joint pain
Removing Attached Ticks
Diagnosis and treatment of a tick bite cannot occur if the tick is still attached to you. In some cases, an embedded tick can be difficult to find. However, the tick must be removed immediately to lower your risk of contracting an illness.
To remove a remove a tick that is already biting you or a family member, you should pinch it close to its mouth, preferably with tweezers. Then, pull it out slowly and steadily. Never try to twist a tick out, burn it, or kill it with Vaseline, oil, or alcohol. Such methods may cause the mouth to remain in your body, which can cause infection. Do not crush the tick.
After removing the tick, place it in a plastic bag to show your doctor. Wash the area around the bite with a mild soap and water, and then apply rubbing alcohol to the bite itself.
There are numerous types of ticks, and some are native to certain regions. Deer ticks are the most common. These are also the smallest—often the size of a sesame seed—and most difficult to remove. Wood ticks are larger and easier to locate on your skin.
Diagnosing Tick-Borne Diseases
Lyme disease is the most common tick bite-related illness. However, it can take two weeks or longer for your body to show signs of the illness.
According the American Academy of Family Physicians, Lyme disease is difficult to diagnose through medical tests. Often, your doctor will make a diagnosis after talking with you about your symptoms and medical history and then doing a physical examination. (AAFP) He or she may wait a few weeks after the initial bite before ordering additional lab tests.
The most common tests used to check for Lyme disease include:
- antibody measurements through an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) blood test
- Western blot blood test
- physical exam
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), urine tests are not an effective way to detect Lyme disease.
You should always contact your doctor if you develop an unexplained rash and could have been bitten by a tick. Rashes caused by Lyme disease are typically shaped like red bull’s-eyes and may be accompanied by flu-like symptoms.
Treating Tick-Borne Illnesses
Tick-bite-related illnesses require medical treatment to improve your chances of recovery. Usually, you will be prescribed antibiotics to prevent infections from spreading through your body. If you have a severe tick-bite illness you may need to be hospitalized. (FDA)
Even though the chances of contracting an illness are not high, it is still important to treat your tick bite to relieve irritation. Wash the tick-bite area and your hands thoroughly.
Contact your doctor immediately if you experience any unusual symptoms, such as flu-like symptoms, rashes, or signs of infection at the bite site. You should also visit your doctor if the tick may have been on your body for more than 24 hours, or if pieces of its head are still stuck in your body after removal.
Preventing Tick Bites
The best way to prevent tick-related illnesses is to avoid getting bitten in the first place.
To prevent tick bites, wear long sleeves and pants when walking through tall grass and bushes. Tuck your pants legs into your socks to prevent ticks from attaching themselves to your legs. Light-colored clothing is less attractive to ticks than darker colors.
You may also consider applying a bug repellent before heading outside. The National Institutes of Health recommend a formula containing DEET, picaridin, or permethrin for the best results. (NIH) You can also buy certain types of clothing that contain insect repellent in the fabric.
Finally, you should always check yourself and your children for tick bites after being outside. Pay special attention to hard-to-reach areas, such as the back and the ears. Ticks move quickly across the body, and seek out areas that are warm and moist. They are often found in the armpits, groin, or scalp.
In order to prevent ticks near your home, try to make the surrounding property unsuitable. Ticks do not like dry environments and cannot live in short vegetation. Keeping weeds and brush away from your home and maintaining your lawn will help you to eliminate ticks near your property.
If your home is surrounded by heavy brush or wooded areas where ticks are commonly found, you can spray these areas with insecticides to help eliminate ticks. Most insecticides will be effective with one or two applications. You should also clean up any areas around your home that may attract rodents, since they often carry ticks. Woodpiles or spilled birdseed may also attract rodents.
You should regularly check your pets for these parasites. Ticks are more commonly found on animals that are allowed to go outside. If you find a tick on your pet, remove it and call your veterinarian. Your pet may need treatment for a tick bite. You can also buy certain medications for your pet that repel ticks.