Tick Bite

Is this your symptom?

  • A tick (small brown bug) is still attached to the skin
  • A tick was recently removed from the skin

Some Basics...

  • Ticks are small, brown insects that are found in wooded or grassy areas. They can attach to people. Ticks then suck and feed on a person's blood. Ticks become swollen after they feed on blood. These are called "engorged ticks." Ticks are easier to see and remove when engorged.
  • A tick bite is painless and doesn't itch. Because of this, a person may not even notice a tick. A tick sucks a person's blood until it is full. Then it falls off. This usually takes 3-6 days.
  • Ticks can spread many diseases. These include Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF), and Colorado tick fever.

Type of Ticks

There are two main types of ticks: Wood Ticks and Deer Ticks.

  • The Wood Tick: This is also called a dog tick. It is the size of a watermelon seed. It can sometimes spread Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Colorado tick fever. The Lone Star tick is the same size and commonly spreads human monocytic ehrlichiosis. It also sometimes spreads Lyme disease.
  • The Deer Tick: This is also called the black-legged tick. It is between the size of a poppy seed and an apple seed. It is the tick that most often spreads Lyme disease. A Southern form of Lyme disease can be spread by the Lone Star tick.

What is Lyme Disease?

  • This has become the most common tick-borne illness in the United States. The risk of Lyme disease after a deer tick bite is about 1%.
  • Most cases of Lyme disease start with a bull's eye rash at the site of the bite. The rash can appear days to weeks after a tick bite. This is often 7-10 days later. If a rash appears, antibiotics are needed. There may be flu-like symptoms with the rash. These include fever, chills, headaches, muscle aches, and fatigue.
  • Getting the tick off right away will help prevent Lyme disease.

When to Call for Tick Bite

Call Doctor Now or Go to ER

  • You can't remove the tick
  • You can't remove the tick's head that has broken off in the skin (Note: if the removed tick is still moving, it was completely removed)
  • Widespread rash appears 2-14 days after the bite
  • Fever or severe headache 2-14 days after the bite
  • Fever and bite area looks infected (redness, red streaks, or tender to touch)
  • You feel weak or very sick
  • You think you need to be seen, and the problem is urgent

Call Doctor Within 24 Hours

  • Red-ring or bull's eye rash appears around a tick bite
  • Probable deer tick and it was attached for more than 24 hours (or tick appeared swollen, not flat) and Lyme disease is common in your area
  • Fever occurs within 2 weeks of a tick bite
  • Headache or widespread rash within 2 weeks of a tick bite
  • Last tetanus shot was over 10 years ago
  • Looks infected (redness, red streaks, or tender to touch)
  • You think you need to be seen, but the problem is not urgent

Call Doctor During Office Hours

  • You have other questions or concerns

Self Care at Home

  • Tick bite with no other problems

Care Advice

Treatment of Tick Bites

  1. What You Should Know:
    • A tick bite is painless and does not itch. Because of this, a person may not even notice a tick. A tick sucks a person's blood until it is full. Then it falls off. This usually takes 3-6 days.
    • You can remove ticks and treat tick bites at home.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. Wood Tick Removal:
    • Use a pair of tweezers. Grasp the wood tick on its head, close to the skin. Pull the wood tick straight upward without twisting or crushing it. Use a steady pressure until it releases its grip. This is the best method.
    • If you do not have tweezers, use your fingers, a loop of thread, or a needle for traction. Put one of these between the jaws of the tick.
    • Covering the tick with petroleum jelly, nail polish, or rubbing alcohol doesn't work. Neither does touching the tick with a hot or cold object.
  3. Deer Tick Removal:
    • Deer ticks are very small. They are too small to remove with tweezers. They need to be scraped off. You can use a credit card edge or the edge of a knife blade.
    • Place tick in a sealed container. Your doctor may want to see it. You can use a glass jar or zip lock plastic bag.
  4. Tick's Head Removal:
    • If the tick's head breaks off in the skin, it must be removed. Clean the skin. Then use a sterile needle to uncover the head. Lift it out or scrape it off.
    • If a very small piece of the head is still there, it will eventually fall off.
  5. Antibiotic Ointment:
    • Wash the wound and your hands with soap and water after removal.
    • Put an over-the-counter (OTC) antibiotic ointment (like Bacitracin) on the bite 1 time.
  6. What to Expect: Tick bites often do not itch or hurt. That is why you may not notice it.
  7. Call Your Doctor If:
    • You can't remove the tick or the tick's head
    • Fever or rash in the next 2 weeks
    • Bite begins to look infected
    • You think you need to be seen
    • You get worse

Prevention of Tick Bites

  1. Prevention - General:
    • Prevention is important if you are hiking in tick-infested areas.
    • Wear long pants and a long shirt. Tuck your shirt into your pants. Tuck the cuffs of your pants into your socks or boots. Light-colored clothing is better because the ticks can be seen more easily.
    • Inspect your whole body and your clothing every couple hours. Ticks like to hide in your hair. Be certain to check your scalp, neck, armpits, and groin.
    • A shower at the end of a hike will help rinse off any tick that is not firmly attached.
    • Change your clothes when your outdoor activities are done.
  2. Prevention with Insect Repellent - DEET:
    • DEET is a very strong tick repellent. It also repels mosquitoes and other bugs.
    • Spray on exposed areas of skin. Do not put near your eyes, mouth, or any irritated skin. Do not put it on skin that is covered by clothing.
    • Always wash it off with soap and water when you return indoors.
    • DEET can damage clothing made of synthetic fibers, plastics, and leather.
    • Women that are breastfeeding may use DEET. No problems have been found.
    • Read all package instructions.
  3. Prevention with Insect Repellent for Your Clothing - Permethrin:
    • Products with permethrin in them are very strong mosquito repellents. These include Duranon, Permanone, and Congo Creek Tick Spray. They also repel ticks. You put permethrin on your clothing instead of your skin.
    • Spray it on your clothes before you put them on. You can also put it on other outdoor items (shoes, mosquito screen, sleeping bags).
    • It continues to work even after your clothes are washed several times.
    • Do not put this type of repellent on your skin.
    • Read and follow the package directions carefully.
  4. Call Your Doctor If:
    • You have more questions
    • You think you need to be seen
    • You get worse

And remember, contact your doctor if you develop any of the 'Call Your Doctor' symptoms.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.


Last Reviewed: 12/15/2017 1:32:55 AM
Last Updated: 5/7/2017 1:36:20 PM

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Wood Tick (Dog Tick)

This is a picture of a female American brown Wood Tick.

The Wood Tick (or dog tick) is the size of a watermelon seed and can sometimes transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Colorado tick fever.

Deer Tick (Black-Legged Tick)

The Deer Tick (black-legged tick) is between the size of a poppy seed (pin head) and an apple seed.

The deer tick is found on a wide rage of hosts including mammals, birds and reptiles.

This tick can transmit Lyme disease to humans and animals during feeding; this occurs when the tick insert its mouth parts into the skin of a host and slowly ingests the host's blood.

First Aid - Removing a Tick

Wood Tick Removal:

  • Use a pair of tweezers and grasp the wood tick close to the skin (on its head). See image.
  • Pull the wood tick straight upward without twisting or crushing it. Maintain a steady pressure until it releases its grip.
  • If tweezers aren't available, use fingers, a loop of thread around the jaws, or a needle between the jaws for traction.

Tiny Deer Tick Removal:

  • Needs to be scraped off with a knife blade or credit card edge.
  • Place tick in a sealed container (e.g., glass jar, zip lock plastic bag), in case your doctor wants to see it.

Note: Covering the tick with petroleum jelly, nail polish or rubbing alcohol doesn't work. Neither does touching the tick with a hot (like a match) or cold object.

Erythema Migrans Rash

The majority of cases of Lyme disease start with a bull's eye rash ("erythema chronicum migrans") at the site of the tick bite. The rash can occur days to weeks (typically 7-10 days) after a tick bite.

Treatment with antibiotics is indicated if this rash appears.

It is thought that Lyme Disease can be prevented if the tick is removed within 24 hours of attachment.

Wood Tick in Scalp

This photos shows an engorged (full with blood) wood tick hiding in the hair on the back of the head.

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