Tick bites are an annoyance for most people – but for some of us, they can also actually be deadly. Ticks carry disease, and they are also known to be capable of causing allergic reactions in some people. And try to remove them in the wrong way, and you can make the situation even worse. Red Meat Allergy, chronic bacterial illness (similar to Lyme Disease), or acute anaphylaxis may be the results (note: if you suffer an allergic reaction or any worrying symptoms after being bitten by a tick, be sure to seek urgent medical help). Given that this is the case, you want to be well and truly informed when it comes to tick bite first aid and proper tick removal. Read on as we take you through the ins and outs of this process.
Infographic – Tick bite first aid Dos and Don’ts
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What not to do?
First of all, and before we move on to the correct procedures to follow after sustaining a tick bite, here are the majors DON’Ts when it comes to tick bite first aid.
- DON’T use tweezers to remove ticks from your skin
- DON’T use your fingernails to pull or scratch ticks out. Don’t scratch anything that you cannot see if there is a good chance that it could be a tick
- DON’T attempt to burn it off using a lighter or matches
- DON’T apply chemical or substance of any sort to the bite site. As a matter of fact, the ONLY substance you should consider using on a tick bite is Lyclear Cream (see more on this below)
- DON’T make any attempt to remove ticks that are nearby your eyes or genitals – in these cases, you will have to seek medical help
There are a few sources out there that will advise you to remove ticks using a set of tweezers – or one or more of the other methods listed above. In fact, you should never do this. The reason is that to remove a live tick, or to irritate it with foreign substances, can impel it to inject its saliva and bodily fluids into your skin as a defense response to being violated, or simply as a byproduct of you squeezing the tick’s body. The tick’s bodily fluids are what contains the dangerous pathogens and toxins – some of these are designed to lead to paralysis in their victim, or cause an allergic reaction when the tick is attacked; others just happen to be pathogens that are harmful to humans.
Freeze the ticks don’t squeeze ’em!
Instead of attempting to pull a live tick off your skin, instead, take yourself down to your local pharmacy and purchase one of those sprays on products that you use to freeze warts off your skin. Hold the nozzle of the spray bottle about a half centimeter over the tick, and then squirt 5 dobs of spray on it – if you are lucky, this will instantly freeze it to death. It won’t hurt you at all, and these products are also suitable for kids down to the age of four. Simply spray the tick and leave it in place; it will eventually drop off of its own accord. If it doesn’t, that’s OK as well, as the tick is now long dead; at this point you can pluck it out using some very fine tweezers (not the common household ones!), doing so ONLY by the gripping hold of the mouthparts of the tick. Pull it out using a single smooth but firm pulling movement. Never squeeze the body of a tick, even a dead one, that is clinging to your skin, as this will still cause it to release it’s body fluids into your own bloodstream.
Another useful pointer: don’t worry if fragments of the tick’s mouth parts remain behind after you dislodge it, as they will come out on their own later on, and they don’t contain any toxins or pathogens (only the tick’s body does).
After the tick has been removed, you can expect some irritation and itchiness around the bite site for a week or even more, so remember to regularly apply antiseptic cream to the area to avoid any chance of infection.
If you get bitten by multiple, usually juvenile (freshly hatched) ticks, you may need to treat yourself to a skin cream known as Lyclear Cream. Used as a treatment for scabies – which is the name for a mite infestation under your skin – it contains permethrin and is equally effective at repelling ticks. You can get it from any pharmacy. Simply remove the cap of the tube, and apply a blob of cream about the size of a pea directly on top of each tick. Be sure not to rub it in! The reasons why are the same as those which apply to removing a live tick from your skin using tweezers etc. Leave the cream as it is for at least an hour, then scrape off the cream and the tick within it as if you were having a shave.
Note that this method can only really be used with juvenile ticks – although if you have a child under the age of four who has adult ticks, or you are someone who has a skin condition which makes a freeze solution unsuitable – you can use the cream.
But what if I can’t get to the pharmacy?
If you have very fine nosed tweezers, then you can remove a tick this way. They must be fine and pointy enough (think of the sort of tweezers used by jewelers) that you can grip the ‘head’, ie mouthparts of the tick – because again, it is only this part of the tick (not the body) that doesn’t contain dangerous toxins and pathogens. Surgical tweezers that have an extremely fine, curved tip are ideal. To remove, push gently down on the skin around the tick so that you can get access to the mouthparts embedded in your skin. Once you’ve got a good grip then, applying firm pressure, pull your tick straight out in one movement without twisting. Once again, expect some itchiness and irritation after removing a tick, so to prevent complications apply an antiseptic cream on a regular basis.