Tick Bites | Lyme Disease | Treatment

Tick Bite Treatment and Removal

January 29, 2019

Tick bites can be dangerous due to the diseases that ticks carry. Here are tips for tick bite prevention and treatment.

University of South Florida

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If you spend time outside or have pets that go outdoors, it’s important to be aware of tick bites—their symptoms, prevention, and treatment. Some ticks transmit Lyme Disease, so we’ll also help you understand types of tickets and disease symptoms.

Ticks are small bloodsucking parasites. Ticks not only carry the dangerous Lyme disease, but also Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Colorado tick fever, or a number of other diseases. In fact, ticks are the leading carriers of diseases to humans in the U.S., and second only to mosquitoes worldwide. Similarly to mosquitoes, toxins in the tick’s saliva cause the disease.

As many as 300,000 people may be diagnosed and treated for Lyme disease each year through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks. It is a regional affliction with 95% of the cases occurring in 14 states in the Upper Midwest, New England, and the Mid-Atlantic, but the only state that has had no reports of Lyme disease is Hawaii. Lyme disease is most common in children 5 to 15 years old and adults 40 to 60 years of age, and risk of infection is greatest from May to August.

What Is Lyme Disease?

An infected tick transmits the spiral-shaped bacterium called a spirochete to us through a tick bite. Because of the spirochete’s shape, it is able to corkscrew its way from the bloodstream into soft tissue, tendons, joints, and bones. There is some controversy about how long the tick needs to be embedded to transmit the disease. The CDC says 24 hours, but some doctors claim only four hours or less will do it.

Lyme Disease Symptoms

Lyme disease is hard to diagnose because so many of its symptoms—such as fever, chills, sore joints, headaches, and exhaustion—mimic other diseases. Tick bites are also generally painless and may go completely unnoticed. 

If left untreated, infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system.

One common symptom is the telltale Lyme disease rash, called erythema migrans. This rash forms the shape of a bullseye around the location of the tick bite. It is red and usually appears within 3 to 14 days of the tick bite. The rash will then grow larger, and sometimes more than one rash can develop. Go to the doctor immediately if you have the rash. Other rashes can develop around tick bites that are not associated with Lyme disease, but it is best to be safe. Not everyone who is infected with Lyme disease contracts the rash, so it is actually a lucky sign that will allow the doctor to make a quick diagnosis and provide treatment.

If Lyme disease is allowed to progress, it can be a debilitating illness. If you live in an area that is prone to ticks carrying Lyme disease, check yourself regularly for ticks and be aware of Lyme disease symptoms. Even if you think you might just have a cold, if you’ve recently had a tick bite, you should check with your doctor.

Types of Ticks

Hard ticks have a tough back plate and tend to feed for hours to days. With hard ticks, disease transmission usually occurs near the end of a meal.

Soft ticks have a more rounded body and lack the back plate. They usually feed for less than an hour and disease transmission can occur in less than a minute.

Lyme disease is caused by hard ticks including deer ticks. Sitting on a log in the woods, leaning up against a tree or gathering wood are risky activities when trying to avoid ticks.

The deer tick or black-legged tick is so tiny that it can be difficult to see. At the nymph stage it is even smaller—about the size of a poppy seed and translucent. Since the nymphs are so hard to see, they can latch on to us unnoticed. This can make it even harder to recognize the symptoms of Lyme disease for what they are. Normally these nymphs feed on mice, deer, and birds, but any warm body will do.

The deer tick is known to carry Lyme disease. If you have a tick bite from a black-legged tick, save the tick for disease testing.

The black-legged tick has a two-year life cycle. Adults feed on large animals like deer, mate, and lay eggs in the soil in fall and early spring. These eggs hatch into larvae which feed on mice, birds, and people until they become adults in the fall and start the cycle all over again.

Ticks are highly active in the early spring and again in the fall. Ticks may get on you if you walk through areas where they live, such as tall grass, leaf litter or shrubs, woods, meadows, and near the water’s edge.

How to Prevent Tick Bites and Lyme Disease

There are several ways to keep ourselves tick-safe. Take the following precautions when working outside:

  • Stay out of tick-infested areas such as overgrown grass, brush, and leaf litter.
  • When outdoors, wear light-colored protective clothing
  • Shower after working outside to wash off unattached ticks.
  • Check yourself, the kids, and pets thoroughly for ticks on days you go outdoors.
  • Tall rubber boots are too slippery for ticks. Wear long sleeves and long pants to keep them off your skin.
  • Tuck your pants into your socks to keep ticks from crawling up your leg.
  • Use a repellent that contains at least 20-30% DEET or wear treated clothing.

For more information on ticks and Lyme disease, visit the American Lyme Disease Foundation website.

Tick Removal

If you find a tick on your skin, use fine-tipped tweezers will remove a tick quite effectively.

  • Use the tweezers to firmly grasp the tick as close to its head and as close to your skin as possible. Avoid squeezing the tick’s abdomen; crushing a tick may transmit diseases.
  • Pull gently upward until the tick comes free. Do not twist and turn the tick, as the head or mouth parts may break off and stay in the skin, increasing the chances for infection.  If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
  • After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.

When removing a tick with tweezers, be sure to remove the entire tick and leave no parts in the skin. (Photo Credit: University of Maine.) 

  • Disinfect the tweezers with rubbing alcohol, and wash your hands thoroughly.
  • Observe the bite area for several days. Illnesses transmitted by the tick often begin only days or weeks after the tick is gone. If symptoms occur, tell the physician if you have been outdoors.
  • Symptoms may include fever, numbness, rash, confusion, weakness, pain and swelling in the joints, shortness of breath, nausea, and/or vomiting. Blood tests are needed to diagnose any illness.


What to Do with a Removed Tick

  • Dispose of a live tick by submersing it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag, and wrapping it tightly in tape. Never crush a tick with your fingers.
  • When disposing of a tick that has not attached yet, drop it into a sealed plastic bag and throw it into the trash. Or, you can drop it into a jar of rubbing alcohol; with this method, you can save it for later identification, although it is better not to do this if you want to have it tested for disease. 
  • Do not flush a live tick down the toilet. Ticks do not drown in water and have been known to crawl back up out of the toilet bowl.
  • If you are bitten, it is recommended that you save the tick for identification and send it to a lab to test if the tick is carrying a disease. In this case, place the tick in a tightly closed container, such as a vial or a zippered plastic bag (doubled, if the tick is alive). Do not soak the tick in alcohol. If the tick is alive (which is preferable for testing), some labs ask that you place a cotton ball moistened with a few drops of water in the container. Label the container with the date, your name and contact information, the bite’s location on the body, and your general health at the time. If known, also list the geographical location from which the tick may have originated. Send live ticks as soon as possible to a lab; some labs accept dead or damaged ticks as well. If the tick is dead and you don’t want to have it tested, you can store the container in the freezer for later tick ID in case symptoms develop.

Do you often deal with ticks? How do you keep yourself tick-free? Please share with the Almanac community in the comments section below!

About This Blog

Get inspired by Robin Sweetser’s backyard gardening tips and tricks. Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. She and her partner Tom have a small greenhouse business and also sell plants, cut flowers, and vegetables at their local Farmer’s Market.

Reader Comments

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I was diagnosed a year and a

I was diagnosed a year and a half ago with Lyme disease after three months of flu-like symptoms and severe knee and foot pain. Finally, after several tests and an expensive MRI, I was diagnosed. I was put on doxycycline and had a severe reaction to that, so then they put me on a different medication. My pain still didn’t go away for good. I still had bouts of pain and fatigue that last weeks. I was seeking something to help regain my life to be able to do things for myself. Through my primary physician i learnt about a Lyme disease herbal formula from NATURAL HERBAL GARDENS and their success rate with the treatment, i immediately started on the Lyme disease herbal protocol, I am glad to report the herbal formula worked effectively and there was no side effects, I had a total decline in symptoms, the pains, chronic fatigue and other symptoms stopped, my Lyme disease is totally REVERSED, Here is a link to the website we ordered from ww w.naturalherbalgardens.c om This Herbal Protocol is Incredible!!

Tick and Insect Repellent

We've been using Sawyer's Permethrin for about 10 years now. Makes going fishing and hunting a lot more enjoyable. Its a plant based spray compound that you liberally spray on and let dry on your outdoor clothing and gear. It really keeps insects away from you; I have seen ticks crawl up my pant leg and just drop off. We treat pants, shirts, jackets, hats, boots and gear. Haven't had a tick on me since. Flying insects stop and hover at the rim of the hat. It remains effective through a number of washings, too. No damage to clothing or gear.
Also found an ingenious tick removal tool in our hardware store a few summers ago, called a Tick Key. Its a very easy and effective tool to remove ticks. We use this on the dog, removes the ticks whole without breaking off head or mouth parts.

Tickbourne diseases

I spent 6 days in the hospital last summer when I was diagnosed with Erlichia a tick-bourne disease, my blood work was crazy...almost no white blood cells, a third of the platelets and i wasn't producing potassium, I was a sick pup. After 2 months of treatment with antibiotics my doctor informed me I could relaspe at anytime now that it was in my system, unfortunately I work outdoors and this year already I have been bitten at least 2 dozen times or more.

Tick and chigger bite prevention

I've found diatomaceous earth (food grade) to be effective in repelling ticks, chiggers and oak tree mites. Liberally powder your clothes and exposed skin with it. The powder gets in the insect's joints and will kill them. Have done this now for two years and had great success with it.

Tick Spray

Haven't tried this yet, but will. For a non-chemical tick spray: 20 drops pure, organic Young Living lemongrass essential oil, 20 drops of Y.L. eucalyptas ess. oil in 4 oz. of water in a glass spray bottle. Spray up to knees and on arms.

Tick Remedy [ Removal ]

I carry Scotch tape with me at all times. If a tick in still on the surface of the skin and not yet embedded, it can be removed with tape. Cut off a strip of tape, place the sticky side down on the tick, lift up the tape and fold it over. I then smash the tick inside the tape and dispose of it. I also carry anti-bacterial wipes for cleaning my skin after removing the tick.

Tick Remedy

A dab of fingernail polish will close their breathing,
they will struggle and release when polish is
congealing, polish will wash off in few days
without leaving an inch.


Never, but never, try to smother them. They first thing they do is regurgitate the stomach contents into you and if the lyme bacteria or virus is there, then you are infected. Just yank them off before they know what happened. I put peroxide on a tiny tick embedded in my abdomen (looked like a blood blister), then immediately took a tweezer to him. It has been 4 wks and I still have a swollen spot from his reaction. Luckily, the reddness never got large enough or hot enough for me to fear it, but it could have. I only used the peroxide to make him release his legs so I could even get the tweezers under him. Looks like I'll carry a tiny scar all summer. Be quick to remove when found, don't mess with suffocating.

Deer Tick diseases

Deer ticks also are the cause of a disease called Babesia or Babesiosis. My husband had it and passed away from this disease, he got bit from a deer tick in Northern Wisconsin.


Yes, peppermint oil works well to repel not just ticks but also mosquitos. Another thing that works well is medicated body powder, which is like baby powder but smells strongly of menthol and eucalyptus. For eliminating ticks, I've found dropping them in a tiny cup of vegetable oil far more efficient than even alcohol - it smothers them and they can't crawl out.


I've found that the best way to deter ticks is to dab a spot of peppermint oil on ankles, wrists and just about anywhere really! It smells pleasant to us humans but apparently not to these little pests. I also dab some on the back of my dog's neck which is about the only place she can't reach with her tongue...

Lyme disease isn't only for

Lyme disease isn't only for people--our dog has it, and although he's being treated for symptoms, the vet says he'll have it for life. Apparently it's common in pets as they spend so much time outdoors.

Those are great ideas. Tried

Those are great ideas. Tried and true solutions are often the best. If you have a tick repellent that's worked for you, please let us know!

The best thing i found for

The best thing i found for our dogs is Petcor Flea Spray, just spray a cloth and wipe their fur. It does a decent job at keeping the ticks off of them. It's not fool proof though, our dogs will still get some in the head. For humans, spray Sawyer Permethrin on boots and pants.

We have a plant here in

We have a plant here in southern Arkansas called French Mulberry it grows wild here and can be found around most wooded areas. My grandfather showed me that if the leaves are crushed and rubbed on your legs you will stay pretty much tick free.

I'm from NH. A few people in

I'm from NH. A few people in my family have Lyme disease so our family has chickens now and I'd also recommend Tick-Tubes- they contain a pesticide to kill ticks as larva before they can infect wildlife or people.

Wear Bug repellant long

Wear Bug repellant long sleeved shirts and pants. Spray deet repellant around shoes and socks if not wearing rubber boots.


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