When I was growing up, tick removal was fun for the whole family. If a tick was discovered on any of my siblings or cousins, everyone would gather around to watch a capable adult extract it.
I witnessed various methods employed to accomplish the feat of tick detachment: Vaseline, ice, tweezers, and a family favorite … lighting a match, blowing it out, and touching the hind end of the tick with the hot match head. The hope of the hot match trick was that the tick would wriggle and back out. But often it backfired as the little bugger just burrowed deeper.
The real victory came if the tick was removed intact. We’d all gasp and laugh nervously then clamor around the grown-up to catch a glimpse of the offending and doomed insect. If the head was left embedded in the skin, we all felt sorry for the poor schmuck of a kid left with a tick head in their arm. But no one worried too much about it.
If all of this doesn’t make my family sound like a gaggle of rednecks, I don’t know what does.
What I never saw coming was the day I would be the capable adult in charge of tick removal. And let me be clear on a critical point:
I hate ticks.
I can’t think of any other critter that grosses me out more. Except spiders. Or maybe bed bugs. And lice. And scabies. Ok fine, I hate all insects and arachnids. But that doesn’t exempt me from being the official tick remover of my family.
My tick removal status is partly the result of growing up in a more rural area than my husband and boasting about all those methods I know ticks can be detached. Mostly it’s because I am a physician assistant in the emergency department and remove ticks all the time at work.
I was stunned when I first learned that people actually come to the emergency department to have ticks removed. But then again, people come to the emergency department for … well … a lot of surprising stuff. And it turns out I’ve gotten pretty good at tick extraction. (Though my earlier assertion that I hate ticks still stands.)
Here are some tips to keep in mind as we enter tick season:
- Prevention is the best medicine. Ticks can be found anywhere outside in the yard but especially in tall grass or any wooded area. For protection, apply a repellant containing 20 to 30% DEET on exposed skin and clothing according to the manufacturers recommendations.
- Perform a head to toe tick check after spending any time outdoors. Ticks are wily so get up-close and personal: inspect armpits, in and behind the ears, belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, front and backsides, and check thoroughly inside the hair.
- All ticks are not deer ticks or wood ticks, and different types of ticks can carry different diseases. So educate yourself on the various ticks and what they look like.
- Many experts agree that a deer tick must be attached to the body for 24-36 hours before it can transmit Lyme disease. But its important to remove any tick right away as Lyme disease is not the only disease that ticks can carry.
- You don’t need to utilize fire and brimstone to detach a tick. Just use a good old-fashioned tweezers. Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull straight up with gentle pressure. Avoid twisting or jerking the tick as you increase the chances you will break off mouth parts. Several years ago we discovered a fantastic tick-removing tool at the pet store. It’s called a Tick Key and almost always removes the tick in one piece on pets or humans.
- If the tick head or mouth parts remain embedded after tick removal, it’s is a myth that you need to remove them. I know that sounds appalling, but the truth is, in most cases, the head or mouth parts will naturally be expelled by the human body’s defense system. You can try to use a tweezers to remove what you can but sometimes that causes more irritation than the effort is worth. In most cases its best to just apply some triple antibiotic ointment and let the site heal.
- Disinfect the site immediately after tick removal. Its also important to monitor the site of the tick bite and watch for signs of skin infection including redness, warmth, pus, or fever. If any of those symptoms develop, visit your primary care provider.
- Regardless of how long a tick was attached, watch closely for any of the following: flu-like symptoms, rash, fever, muscle aches, joint pain or fatigue. If any of these symptoms develop it’s time to visit your primary care provider as they can be signs of a serious tick-borne infection.
Want more information? A guide to all things tick including pictures of various ticks and a link to their tick app can be found at the CDC website here: http://www.cdc.gov/ticks/
NOTE: None of this is meant to serve as medical advice or as an exhaustive guide to ticks. Visit your primary care provider for his or her opinion if you have any questions or concerns whatsoever regarding ticks or tick bites.
I should mention that my kids now love to watch me remove ticks and living in the country gives me ample opportunities to show off. Yes, I am raising another generation of redneck children who find tick extraction entertaining. But at least they come by it honestly.