Arizona Advanced Medicine Clinic

What to Do After a Tick Bite

If you’re familiar with deer ticks (also known as bear or blacklegged ticks), you know what to look for after you’ve gone camping or hiking. However, if you’re unaware of what ticks look like and where they hide, it can be difficult to tell whether or not you’ve been bitten.

What Are Ticks?

Ticks are bloodsucking parasites that require a meal of blood before transitioning from one life stage to another. For example, a deer tick larva will need to feed on blood before transforming into its larger, adult, hard-bodied form. Full-grown adult ticks can be the size of an apple seed, even after a large meal, but younger ticks can be as small as grains of sand. They also live outdoors in shrubs, trees, grass, and piles of leaves. Wearing long sleeves and pants can protect you from attack, while wearing sandals, shorts, and short sleeves exposes your skin. If you brush against a bush or shrub with an exposed leg, a tick can easily attach.

Checking for Ticks

After you’ve been hiking, camping, or otherwise exposed to grassy or shrub-heavy areas, it’s a good idea to check yourself and your loved ones for tick bites. Ticks don’t jump, they crawl. A tick will most likely wind up on your feet and legs and move its way upward. They also will choose areas most likely to yield blood, which means places where the skin is thinnest. When looking for ticks, check:

  • The scalp, under the hair
  • The neck area
  • Behind ears
  • In armpits
  • In the groin area
  • Under breasts
  • In the navel
  • Behind the knees
  • Between legs
  • Around the waist

Ticks can also hide on clothing, so throw everything into a dryer for about 10 minutes on high heat to kill any insects that may be hidden on them. Add more time if the clothing is moist. While not every tick you find will be a deer tick (some are dog ticks, which carry different diseases), you will want to remove it as quickly and safely as possible. Deer ticks tend to be more dangerous because they act as vectors for Lyme disease, a bacterial infection that leads to flu-like symptoms and can cause heart problems if left untreated. It’s also easier to check for ticks on other people, so ask a friend or family member to help you.

Removing the Tick

There are a lot of folk remedies floating around the internet about how to remove a tick. The best way, according to the Center for Disease control, is to use a fine-tipped pair of tweezers. Grasp the tick as close as possible to the surface of the skin and pull upward with steady, even pressure. You want to detach as much of the tick as possible without leaving any mouthparts behind because it will increase your chances of infection if the tick is a vector for bacteria. If any mouthparts remain, try to remove as much of them as possible with clean tweezers before cleaning the area thoroughly with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water. Get rid of the tick by throwing it in a plastic bag, a container of alcohol, wrapping it in tape, or flushing it down the toilet. Never touch the tick directly with your fingers.

Keep an Eye on Your Health

While catching Lyme disease is relatively rare if you’ve found the tick before it has been feeding for 36 hours (the amount of time needed for the bacteria to transfer), be aware that it is possible for infection to occur after as little as 15 minutes of tick attachment. Watch the site of the bite. If a rash develops, it could be an early sign of Lyme disease. Flu-like symptoms can also indicate early stages of Lyme disease. Remember that almost 50% of people never see a rash, so flu-like symptoms after hiking or camping or just working in the garden, even without a rash, might be a sign of Lyme disease.

It is possible to have an allergic reaction to contact with a tick. While not all allergic reactions are severe, if you have difficulty breathing after a tick bite, take an antihistamine (such as Benadryl) as soon as possible right after calling 911. Some people with tick allergies experience anaphylactic shock. If this is the case, don’t worry about removing the tick. It can be removed later at the hospital after you’ve been given treatment for the allergic reaction.

If you’ve been bitten by a deer tick and you think you may have developed Lyme disease, contact us at the Arizona Center for Advanced Medicine. We offer free case consultations, and our Scottsdale Lyme disease treatment center specializes in these cases. Stay healthy and stay safe.

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