Spring brings glorious flowers and heavenly temps, along with the start of tick season. If an infected tick lodges in your skin, it can transmit disease, such as Lyme. Additionally, a tick bite can trigger itchiness, swelling, and pain. As always, I want to protect you from skin-related illness and discomfort. In this blog, I explain how to care for tick bites. I also share bite prevention tips. You’ll have a strong defense against the blood-hungry critters!
Identifying Ticks: What Do Ticks Look Like?
As members of the spider family, ticks possess eight legs. You can also identify ticks by their flat bodies, which can be brown, black, and reddish brown before they start feeding. Once a tick fills with blood, it changes color, usually becoming greenish or brown.
Common tick species are the dog, deer, and lone star. Adult dog ticks are easiest to spot, measuring about 1/8 to 1/2 inch in length when satiated. Deer ticks are the size of sesame seeds. Lone stars are notable for a white spot or white streaks on their bodies. Baby ticks are the size of a period dot.
Tick season runs from April through September. During these months, perform “tick checks” on yourself and loved ones after contact with tall grasses, leaf piles, underbrush, and shrubs.
Bite Symptoms: Can Tick Bites Itch or Hurt?
A tick can stay burrowed in skin for up to 10 days. Once sated with blood, it may fall off. You can also unknowingly scratch a tick from your skin. Unless you see the bug, you may not know that it’s bitten you. The reason is that tick saliva contains a painkilling compound.
Bite symptoms typically emerge within a few days to four weeks. The first indication is a small, red bump that feels sore and warm to touch. Non-infected bites are usually localized to 2 inches or less in size. The rash associated with a tick bite can be itchy, but it’s much less itchy than poison ivy. If you’re allergic to tick toxin, the lesions can itch, burn, swell, blister, or scab.
Deer ticks can transmit Lyme disease. In 70 percent of cases, the classic sign is a bull’s eye rash – a red blotch surrounded by a red ring. It may also itch, blister, and feel tender. Otherwise, a Lyme disease rash is uniformly red.
Symptoms of tick-borne illness are muscle pain, joint aches, neck stiffness, chills, fever, headache, nausea, swollen glands, vomiting, fatigue, and weakness. Essentially, the malaise feels like flu.
Without prompt medical treatment, serious complications can result. Among them are arthritis, memory loss, palpitations, and facial paralysis, termed “Bell’s palsy.” Here’s further information on recognizing a Lyme disease rash.
Note – Tick-borne illness is typically treated with antibiotic medication. If a doctor prescribes one, also take a probiotic supplement. Its beneficial bacteria will strengthen your immune system while the medicine kills the infection. Here’s more on the benefits of probiotics and how to choose a supplement.
Body Checks: How do You Check for Ticks?
Since ticks can’t jump, hop, or fly, you only become a host through direct contact. Ticks hook onto people within grabbing reach. Once aboard, they favor warm and moist body regions, such as the groin, underarms, navel, ears, hair, and posterior knees. However, ticks can camp on any skin area. Once comfy, a bug buries its head in the skin of its host and starts drawing blood.
After being in tick territory, upon returning home, immediately remove your clothes and machine-dry them at the highest setting for at least 10 minutes. Meanwhile, take a shower to wash off any ticks that may be on your body. Then, wash your clothes in hot water. The dryer heat kills bugs clinging to fabrics, and the washing machine eliminates them.
Next, do a body check with the help of a magnifying glass, handheld mirror, and wall mirror. Examine your skin systemically, starting with your feet and ankles. If you have leg hair, check the roots by rolling the strands back. Also, to detect teeny bugs, run your fingertips over hairless skin areas.
Using both mirrors, inspect the backs of your knees and around your waist. Next, check your pelvis, including the pubic region. Continuing upward, examine your back, underarms, neck, ears, and scalp.
If you’re a woman reading this, check under your breasts. If you have a dog or cat that goes outdoors, examine them too.
Safe Removal: How to Safely Remove a Tick?
Once a tick bites, you have 24 hours to prevent disease transmission. During this time frame, if a tick burrows into your skin, it’s not likely to cause serious problems, provided you remove it.
To do so, first obtain fine-tipped tweezers, and fill a jar with alcohol. Using the tweezers, firmly grasp the bug where its head meets your skin. Then, slowly and steadily, pull it straight up. Make sure the bug’s head isn’t left behind. Now, submerge the tick in the alcohol-filled container, and secure the lid. On a label, write the date you were bitten, and affix it to the jar.
Next, using antibacterial soap and water, wash the bite area. Then, dab it with rubbing alcohol. To prevent infection, cleanse the bite three times daily.
WARNING! – Never attack a tick with a straight pin, essential oil, lit match, nail polish, or petroleum jelly. Smothering and poking will agitate the bug and force its saliva into your skin, hiking the risk of infection.
If you suspect the tick’s been feeding beyond 24 hours, promptly see your doctor. Bring the varmint to your appointment, so your physician can decide if medical care is required. If tick-borne disease is common where you live, your doctor may start treatment immediately, before symptom onset.
Easing Discomfort: How to Relieve itching, Pain and Swelling from Tick Bites?
Following are natural remedies for tick bites, along with links to retail sources.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Made from crushed and fermented apples, this liquid relieves itching, prevents infection, and speeds healing. Mix one teaspoon each of apple cider vinegar and water, and dab on bitten skin twice daily.
Tea Tree Oil
This essential oil lessens itching and inflammation and kills infection. Soak a cotton swab in tea tree oil and dab on irritated skin twice per day.
Adding garlic to your food gives it antibiotic power, preventing bacterial infection. Applied to a tick bite, garlic stops itching and microbial growth. Add garlic to pesto, guacamole, salsa, tomato sauce, and steamed vegetables. As a topical treatment, slice a large clove in half, and rub the cut area on the bite for one minute.
If you’re not a garlic fan, substitute onion for its antibacterial effect. Place an onion slice on a tick bite for three minutes. Also, include onion in your diet. Its Vitamin C will accelerate healing by boosting the formation of collagen, a vital skin protein. Here’s a culinary guide for preparing different onion varieties.
Stop itching and infection with a baking soda poultice. Mix two tablespoons of baking soda with enough water to make a thick paste. Apply to skin and let it dry, followed by rinsing with cold water. Repeat every three hours.
This remedy alleviates pain, swelling, and itching. Soak a washcloth in cold water, wring it out, and wrap it around an ice pack or bag of frozen vegetables. Apply the compress to the bite for 10 minutes, repeating as needed.
Bite Prevention: What to Do to Avoid Ticks?
Ticks hang out in leaves, underbrush, tall grass, vegetation, and shrubs, to about knee-high level. Then, they crawl up to a high perch and wait for a host to appear. Structures on their front legs serve as noses, by which they sniff out potential hosts. Termed “Haller’s organs,” this tick anatomy keenly detects body odors and movement.
Once a tick smells something approaching, it extends its legs, poised to grip. However, with some protective measures, you can reduce your chances of getting hijacked.
1. Apply Tick repellent
Before heading outdoors, apply a tick deterrent made with rose geranium essential oil, which is very effective against ticks. You should read this article about rose geranium oil for ticks. The formulas below mask body odors, shielding you from tick radar. Here are two easy recipes:
Tick Repellent Recipe – Option 1
Into a small bowl, measure out:
- four tablespoons almond oil
- two tablespoons aloe vera gel
- 30 drops rose geranium essential oil
Stir well, and siphon the liquid into an eye dropper. Massage three drops of the solution into regions of exposed skin.
About rose geranium essential oil : use the essential oil with the botanical name Pelargonium capitatum x radens. It’s the most effective one against ticks. You can buy it online here.
Tick Repellent Recipe – Option 2
You can also make a non-staining spray repellent. Into a spray bottle, pour:
- 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 cup water
- 10 drops rose geranium essential oil
Spritz the solution on your clothing, gear, and skin.
Note – I strongly advise against using DEET and permethrin as repellents. Here’s another Optiderma blog, explaining why.
2. Dress defensively
Wear light-colored clothing, so you can easily spot any hitchhikers. Minimize skin exposure by wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants. To further reduce skin access, tuck pant legs into socks and shirts inside your pants. Also, wear closed-toed shoes.
3. Avoid tick territory
When hiking, stay in the center of paths, away from tick hideouts in leaves, grasses, shrubs, fallen trees, and underbrush.
4. Consume deterrent foods
Garlic Family – Ticks detest the smell and taste of garlic, courtesy of the compound allicin. Since heat destroys allicin, eat garlic raw. Garlic alternatives containing allicin are shallots, onions, chives, and leeks.
B Vitamin Foods – Ticks don’t like the odor of B vitamins exuded by skin pores. Optimal food sources are beans, lentils, whole grains, sunflower seeds, asparagus, spinach, mushrooms, eggs, and yogurt.
During tick season, sidestep bites with these preventive measures:
- Apply natural tick repellent.
- Dress defensively.
- Eat deterrent foods.
- Avoid tick hangouts.
Once home, immediately toast any ticks on clothing with stints in a dryer and washer on hot settings. Also, shower within two hours of returning home.
If you do get bitten, carefully remove the tick with fine-tipped tweezers and transfer it to an alcohol-filled jar. If you suspect a tick’s been feeding beyond 24 hours, immediately see your doctor, bringing your specimen.
Relieve bite discomfort with a natural remedy of your choice, such as apple cider vinegar, tea tree oil, garlic, onion, baking soda, and cold compresses.
Don’t let ticks sour your outdoor fun!
Does your tick bite itch and hurt? Do you have some tips for treating and preventing tick bites? If so, please share them with your fellow outdoor enthusiasts!