First Aid: Tick Bites

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First Aid

While most tick bites are harmless and don't require medical treatment, some ticks (like the deer tick, wood tick, and others) can carry harmful germs and cause diseases like Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease. The deer tick is tiny, no larger than a pencil point. Other ticks are larger and easier to find on the skin.

Signs and Symptoms

Of Tick-Related Diseases:

  • a red bump ringed by an expanding red rash, which looks like a bull's-eye (Lyme disease)
  • red dots on the ankles and wrists (Rocky Mountain spotted fever)
  • flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, fatigue, vomiting, and muscle and joint aches

What to Do

If the tick is still attached to the skin, follow these steps:

  1. Use tweezers to grasp the tick firmly at its head or mouth, next to the skin.
  2. Pull firmly and steadily until the tick lets go of the skin. Do not twist the tick or rock it from side to side. If part of the tick stays in the skin, don't worry. It will eventually come out on its own.
  3. Release the tick into a jar or zip-locked bag in case you want to have it identified later on.
  4. Wash your hands and the site of the bite with soap and water.
  5. Swab the bite site with alcohol.

Never use petroleum jelly or a hot match to kill and remove a tick. These methods don't get the tick off the skin, and can cause the insect to burrow deeper and release more saliva (which increases the chances of disease transmission).

Seek Medical Care

If:

  • The tick might have been on the skin for more than 24 hours.
  • Part of the tick remains in the skin after attempted removal.
  • A rash of any kind develops (especially a red-ringed bull's-eye rash or red dots on wrists and ankles).
  • The bite area looks infected (increasing warmth, swelling, pain, or oozing pus).
  • Symptoms like fever, headache, fatigue, stiff neck or back, or muscle or joint aches develop.

Think Prevention!

  • After kids play outside, check their skin and hair — especially the scalp, behind the ears, around the neck, and under the arms.
  • When playing in wooded areas, kids should wear long-sleeved shirts and pants and tuck pant legs into their socks.
  • Use an insect repellant with at least 10% to 30% DEET for protection against bites and stings in kids older than 2 years, always carefully following the directions for application.
  • Avoid tick-infested areas.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: April 2014



Related Resources

OrganizationCenters for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) The CDC (the national public health institute of the United States) promotes health and quality of life by preventing and controlling disease, injury, and disability.
OrganizationAmerican Lyme Disease Foundation This organization is dedicated to advancing the prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and control of Lyme disease.


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First Aid: Stiff Neck A stiff neck is usually nothing to worry about. In rare cases, it can be a sign of something serious. Here's what to do about a stiff neck.
Lyme Disease Lyme disease can affect the skin, joints, nervous system, and other organ systems. If diagnosed quickly and treated with antibiotics, Lyme disease in kids is almost always treatable.
How Can I Protect My Family From Ticks? Find out what the experts say.
How Do I Watch for Lyme Disease After Removing a Tick? Find out what the experts have to say.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever Rocky Mountain spotted fever is an infection transmitted by ticks. Find out more about it - including how to prevent it.




Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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