10 Things to Do Right Now If You’ve Been Bitten By a Tick
Follow these steps if you’re bitten by a tick—and learn how to protect yourself from getting bitten in the first place.
Remove your clothes
Don’t step foot in the house if you’ve been in an area with ticks. Take off your shoes and socks and shake them outside. Remove as many articles of clothing as you can before going inside, then tumble dry for at least 10 minutes to kill any ticks that may have been hanging on. Find out the 13 secrets ticks would never tell you.
Take a shower
If you’ve been outdoors, especially in areas prone to ticks such as heavily wooded areas, grassy, or brushy places, or even yards with piles of leaves, it’s a good idea to hop in the shower to rinse off any ticks that may be crawling on your body. This will prevent them from having time to latch on to your skin for a bite. In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that showering within two hours of being outside has been shown to reduce your risk of getting Lyme disease, a tickborne illness.
Scan your body
Ticks are tiny arachnids that can be easy to miss if you’re not looking closely. “It’s important for people to check for ticks daily and not just with their eyes. They’re really small and may be easier to feel than to see,” says Mia Finkelston, MD, a family physician who treats patients virtually via LiveHealth Online, a telehealth app. Meticulously look over every part of your body, keeping an eye out for little black dots, and run your hands along your skin to feel for something that doesn’t belong. Be sure to check locations where ticks can easily hide, like the scalp, hairline, underarms, waist, behind the knees, and the genitals, she says.
If you spot one, remove it immediately
It’s important to remove a tick from your skin as soon as you find it. That’s because some harbor diseases, the most well-known being Lyme disease, characterized by headache, fever, fatigue, and a rash; if left untreated, the infection can spread to the joints, heart, and nervous system. Roughly 30,000 Lyme disease cases are reported yearly, but the CDC estimates the actual number is likely 10 times that much.
Dr. Finkelston recommends using tweezers to grab the head of the tick, which is the part buried or attached to the skin, then pull straight out. “You may want to soften the skin with warm water to help remove the tick,” she says. Gently wash the area with soap and warm water once the tick is extracted.
Find out the only way you should remove a tick.
Keep the tick
It’s important to get the tick identified to find out if it could carry a disease; some ticks are more prone to disease transmission than others. “Tape it to an index card and bring it into your doctor,” says Dr. Finkelston. “Or, I tell my patients to show me a picture of it so I can properly identify it, since it’s easy to identify ticks visually by location and time of year.” These are the most dangerous states for Lyme disease.
Pay attention to your skin
Undetected ticks typically stay attached to the skin for between 48 and 72 hours after biting, then detaches and moves on. That’s why it’s important to recognize the signs that you may have been unknowingly bitten. “Patients may see a small black and blue mark, like their skin was pinched. The area usually takes on a deep red or purplish appearance and then lightens away from the center,” says Dr. Finkelston. “There may be some swelling and, as the area heals, it may become itchy.” This is what it’s like to have Lyme disease.
Look for physical symptoms
Ticks can transmit illnesses such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, babesiosis, and Powassan virus depending on what region of the United States you reside. Many of the symptoms overlap, such as fever or chills, muscle or joint aches and pains, headache, and fatigue. They typically appear seven to ten days after being bitten. Contact a doctor as soon as you start to feel sick. These are the other tick-borne diseases you need to know about.
Dress for protection
You can take preventative measures to lower your risk of being bitten by a tick. When going outside, cover as much skin as possible—wear long sleeves, pants, high socks, and a hat. Use an insect repellent with at least 20 percent DEET.
Avoid tick-friendly areas
No matter how well you try to cover up your skin, it’s still a good idea to steer clear of places that ticks like to reside, such as areas with tall grass or brush; if you’re on a hiking path, try not to stray. “Even though they don’t jump or fly, ticks can climb onto you when you brush by them,” says Dr. Finkelston. These are Lyme disease symptoms you should never ignore.
Treat your dog
Dogs are very susceptible to tick bites and can bring them into your home, even if your body and clothing is tick-free. Consider investing in sprays, collars, or special shampoos that can help protect against ticks.