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Tick bite

Ticks are small, insect-like creatures that can attach to you as you brush past bushes, plants, and grass. Once on you, ticks often move to a warm, moist location, like the armpits, groin, and hair. At that point they typically attach firmly to your skin and begin to draw blood.

Ticks can be fairly large -- about the size of a pencil eraser -- or so small that they are almost impossible to see. Ticks can cause a variety of health conditions ranging from harmless to serious.

This article describes the effects of a tick bite.

This is for information only and not for use in the treatment or management of an actual poison exposure. If you have an exposure, you should call your local emergency number (such as 911) or the National Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.

See also: Tick removal

Poisonous Ingredient

Hard- and soft-bodied female ticks are believed to make a poison that can cause tick paralysis in children.

While most ticks do not carry diseases, some ticks can carry bacteria that can cause:

Where Found

Ticks live in wooded or grassy fields.

Symptoms

Watch for the symptoms of tick-borne diseases in the weeks following a tick bite -- muscle or joint aches, stiff neck, headache, weakness, fever, swollen lymph nodes, and other flu-like symptoms. Watch for a red spot or rash starting at the location of the bite.

The symptoms below refer more to the problems resulting from the bite itself, not the diseases that a bite may cause. Some of the symptoms are specific to one variety of tick or another but not necessarily common to all ticks.

  • Apnea (breathing stopped)
  • Blisters
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Rash
  • Severe pain at bite site (some varieties), lasting for several weeks
  • Swelling at bite site (some varieties)
  • Weakness
  • Uncoordinated movement

Home Treatment

Remove the tick (see tick removal ). Be careful not to leave the tick's head stuck in the skin.

Before Calling Emergency

Determine the following information:

  • Patient's age, weight, and condition
  • Time the tick bite occurred
  • Part of the body affected

Poison Control, or a local emergency number

The National Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222) can be called from anywhere in the United States. This national hotline number will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions.

This is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. It does NOT need to be an emergency. You can call for any reason, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

See: Poison control center - emergency number

What to expect at the emergency room

The symptoms will be treated as appropriate. Long-term treatment may be needed if complications develop. Preventive antibiotics are often given to people who live in areas where Lyme disease is common.

Expectations (prognosis)

Most tick bites are harmless. The outcome will depend on what type of infection the tick may have been carrying and how soon appropriate treatment was begun.

References

Holm AL. Arachnids, insects, and other arthropods. In: Long SS, Pickering LK, Prober CG, eds. Principles and Practice of Pediatric Infectious Diseases. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Churchill Livingstone; 2003:chap 299.

Updated: 12/15/2011

Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.


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