Ticks are tiny parasites that feed on the blood of animals and humans. While most tick bites are harmless and cause little-to-no symptoms, they can carry bacteria and viruses that cause infection.
Ticks are most commonly found in heavily wooded or grassy areas. They are particularly prevalent in the Northeast, Midwest and mid-Atlantic (e.g., Delaware, Virginia, Maryland, etc...) regions of the United States. These barely-visible arachnids pass easily between animals and humans, often moving from pet to owner.
After a tick bites, it will attach itself to your body to keep drawing blood. You won't feel the bite as it's occurring. People generally know that they've been bitten by a tick by finding it on their body. As the tick draws blood, it becomes larger. Therefore, the longer that a tick has been attached to you, the bigger it becomes. Ticks may stay attached to the body for up to 10 days.
Ticks prefer warm, moist areas of the body. Tick bites are most likely to occur on the:
- Back of the knees
- Around the waist
Tick bite symptoms
While many tick bites don't cause symptoms, some people are allergic to tick bites and may experience the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction.
Common symptoms of a tick bite include:
- Redness or swelling at the bite area
- Skin rash
- Burning sensation in the bite area
- Itchiness/ irritation
- Shortness of breath (less common)
Ticks often carry viruses, bacteria, and protozoans that cause infection and disease. These organisms are transmitted to the body when a tick bites you, potentially leading to a tick-borne illness.
Common symptoms of a tick-borne illness include:
- Muscle pain
- Full-body rash
- Neck stiffness
Not all tick bites result in illness and disease. However, many ticks carry harmful pathogens that cause potentially serious complications.
Examples of tick-borne illnesses include:
- Lyme disease
- Rocky Mountain spotted fever
- Colorado tick fever
The best way to treat a tick bite is to remove the parasite. If you find a tick on your body, removing it can help reduce your risk of contracting a tick-borne illness. If you're experiencing the symptoms of an allergic reaction, do not remove the tick on your own and seek medical attention right away.
To remove a tick:
- Use a pair of tweezers to pull the tick away from your skin, being careful not to crush the body of the parasite
- Pull the tick straight up and away from the skin; do not twist or bend the tick
- Be careful not to touch the tick with your bare hands or crush the body of the tick, as this can expose you to harmful bacteria
- Flush the tick down the toilet or submerge it in rubbing alcohol
- Wash the bitten area with hot water and soap
- Apply antibacterial ointment to the affected area to help prevent infection
If you are going to see a medical professional about a tick bite, preserve the tick in a plastic bag or lidded jar for evidence. This helps the provider know what kind of tick bit you, and what complications you might be at risk for.
If you begin to notice the signs and symptoms of a tick-borne illness or an allergic reaction, seek medical attention right away. These conditions are more easily treated the earlier they are caught.