How to treat a tick bite at home and when to see a provider

Summertime and warm weather mean spending more time outside, but if you want to enjoy the great outdoors, you also should know how to treat a tick bite.

Summertime and warm weather mean spending more time outside, but if you want to enjoy the great outdoors, you also should know how to treat a tick bite.

Mitchell F. Elliott, M.D., a physician with Norton Immediate Care Centers, shares tips on preventing tick bites, at-home treatments and when you should see a provider.

How to prevent tick bites

Be aware of where ticks live before you venture outdoors. You’re more likely to encounter ticks in grassy or wooded areas, but you don’t have to go on a camping trip or a remote hike in order to come into contact with them. Ticks also can live in yards and neighborhoods. As a general rule of thumb, avoid areas with high grass and don’t go off trails.

Before you head outside, pre-treat clothing and gear with 0.5% permethrin, a nontoxic insecticide that can kill ticks on contact. Use insect repellents with DEET. Wearing long sleeves and pants can help avoid tick bites as well.

After you return indoors, check your clothing, gear and pets for ticks, and remove any that may be found. Wash all clothes with hot water. Putting clothes in the dryer on high heat for 10 minutes also can kill ticks. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, showering within two hours of returning inside can help prevent Lyme disease, a bacterial illness transmitted by tick bites.

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Where to check for ticks

Upon returning inside, adults and children should check their bodies for ticks, especially in the following areas:

  • Under the arms
  • In and around the ears
  • Inside bellybutton
  • Back of the knees
  • In and around the hair
  • Between the legs
  • Around the waist

How to treat a tick bite at home

When it comes to treating a tick bite, early intervention is key. If you find a tick, remove it as soon as possible. Using fine-tipped tweezers, grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull the tick upward in a steady motion. Do not use twisting or jerking movements. Clean the area with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.

When should I worry about a tick bite?

Tick bites can cause Lyme disease, and the longer a tick is attached to your skin, the higher the risk. See your provider if:

  • You develop a rash that looks like a bull’s-eye.
  • You’re unable to remove the tick completely.
  • You experience pain or swelling at the site of bite.
  • You have any of the following symptoms:
    • Difficulty breathing, headache, nausea, weakness, chills or swollen lymph nodes

Your health care provider may prescribe doxycycline or another antibiotic. If you retain the tick, it may be possible to identify the species and determine if it is a species that carries Lyme disease. If you can estimate the amount of time the tick was attached, it can help your health care provider determine the best course of action for how to treat the tick bite.

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