Preventing and treating tick bites

If you live in area where ticks are abundant, there are several things you can do to prevent getting tick bites:

  • Wear light-colored clothing. Light colors make ticks easier to spot, especially tiny deer tick nymphs.
  • Tuck your pants inside your socks. It may not be a flattering look, but it creates a physical barrier against ticks.
  • Use insect repellent. Most of the chemicals that repel mosquitoes are somewhat effective against ticks, although it may take a heavier concentration of DEET — between 30% and 40% — to really keep them away. Permethrin is a stronger chemical that kills ticks as well as repels them. Products containing permethrin should be sprayed on clothes, not on the skin. Picaridin repels mosquitoes and other insects, but not ticks.
  • Stay in the middle of the path (or fairway). Ticks can't fly or jump, so they can only get on you if you come into contact with the kind of environment they live in: moist, often shady, wooded areas, with leaves, low-lying plants, and shrubs.
  • Think sunny. Ticks don't do well in dry, open areas. Lawn furniture and playground equipment should be set back from the edge of wooded, shady areas. If you're picnicking, pick a patch of well-tended lawn or some open ground.
  • Inspect yourself and your children (and your pets), especially the legs and groin. Ticks usually get picked up on the lower legs and then climb upward in search of a meal. The odds of contracting Lyme or other tick-borne disease are minimized if a tick is removed soon after it's attached, and there's no risk if it's still crawling around. The shower is a good place to conduct a tick check. Feel for any new bumps on soaped-up skin.

If you find a tick that has burrowed into your skin, there's an effective way to remove it. Grab a pair of tweezers, some cotton pads, and some rubbing alcohol, and follow these directions:

  1. A tick feeds by way of a two-pronged mouthpart (called a hypostome) held in place with salivary cement and secured with tiny backward-pointing barbs. To remove the tick, use narrow-tipped tweezers and grasp the tick as close to your skin as possible.
  2. Pull straight up slowly and steadily. You will feel a small tugging sensation, because a tiny piece of skin will remain attached to the tick's feeding parts. Try not to crush or squeeze the tick while it is still attached to your skin.
  3. Save the tick in a jar of alcohol so that it can be identified. If the tick's feeding parts remain in your skin, try to remove them. If you can't, check with your doctor.