Ticks are small, insect-like creatures that live in woods and fields. They attach to you as you brush past bushes, plants, and grass. Once on you, ticks often move to a warm, moist location. They are often found in the armpits, groin, and hair. Ticks attach firmly to your skin and begin to draw blood for their meal. This process is painless. Most people will not notice the tick bite [01-002856].
Ticks can be fairly large -- about the size of a pencil eraser. They can also be so small that they are very hard to see.. Ticks can cause a number of health conditions. Some of these can be serious..
While most ticks do not carry diseases, some ticks can cause:
Do NOT try to burn the tick with a match or other hot object.
Do NOT twist the tick when pulling it out.
Do NOT try to kill, smother, or lubricate the tick with oil, alcohol, Vaseline, or similar material.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your doctor if you have not been able to remove the entire tick. Also call if in the days following a tick bite you develop:
- A rash
- Flu-like symptoms, including fever and headache
- Joint pain or redness
- Swollen lymph nodes
Call 911 if you have any signs of:
- Chest pain
- Heart palpitations
- Increasingly severe headache which does not respond to medication
- Severe headache
- Trouble breathing
- Wear long pants and long sleeves when walking through heavy brush, tall grass, and thickly wooded areas.
- Pull your socks over the outside of your pants to prevent ticks from crawling up your leg.
- Keep your shirt tucked into your pants.
- Wear light-colored clothes so that ticks can be spotted easily.
- Spray your clothes with insect repellant.
- Check your clothes and skin often while in the woods.
After returning home:
- Remove your clothes. Look closely at all your skin surfaces including your scalp. Ticks can quickly climb up the length of your body.
- Some ticks are large and easy to locate. Other ticks can be quite small, so carefully evaluate all black or brown spots on the skin.
- If possible ask someone to help you examine your body for ticks.
- An adult should examine children carefully.
Bolgiano EB, Sexton J. Tick-Borne Illnesses. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Mosby Elsevier; 2009:chap 132.
Traub, SJ, Cummins, GA. Tick-Borne Diseases. In: Auerbach, PS. ed. Auerbach: Wilderness Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA. Mosby Elsevier; 2011:chap 51.
Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.