Ticks: How to Safely Remove This Parasite From Your Skin

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How To Safely Remove Ticks From Your SkinSummer is here in all its glory and so are those blood-thirsty little arachnids, ticks! If you are hiking through an infested area, these tiny eight-legged creature will wait on brush, shrubs, bushes, grass or low growing plants and cling to your clothes as you sweep by. It then climbs upward looking for an area of exposed skin to burrow into and literally sucks your blood, which is used for food.

Ticks are in the same animal family as spiders, scorpions and mites. Incredibly resilient and adaptive, they live in all 50 states, most often in brushy fields and wooded areas. These tiny animals are active in late spring, summer and early fall, as temperatures warm, and also in winter, when it is above freezing.

Ticks can be found all year around virtually everywhere in rural America, where the vast majority of leisure, adventure, and outdoor activities take place.

Why Are They a Problem?

This parasite is not only an annoyance, it is potentially dangerous. When a tick burrows into your skin and draws your blood into its body cavity, it can transfer a variety of harmful bacteria and viruses (pathogens) back to its host, you, similar to the way a mosquito conveys malaria.

The nine species of ticks found in North America carry and transmit no less than twelve diseases that can harm you, including Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Pawassan Disease.

You or one of your family members are outdoors or have just come back from an outing and find a tick attached to you. Your immediate response is that the little parasite must be removed, the sooner the better.

Wait! In your haste to remove it from your skin, don’t pinch the tick between your fingers, twisting or pulling to try to dislodge it.  These actions can cause the tick’s mouth parts to break away from its body and remain in your skin. There is a safe and dependable way to remove this pesky parasite.

How to Remove a Tick

The best and safest way to remove a tick is by mechanical means, using fine-tipped tweezers or a specialized tick removal tool (see the end of this article for a list of tools.)

  1. Disinfect the tweezers or tick removal tool with rubbing alcohol or soap before using.
  2. Gently grab the tick as close to your skin as possible with the tweezers or removal tool.
  3. Pull upward using even and steady pressure until the tick is dislodged.
  4. Do not jerk, twist or pull fast.
  5. If the tick breaks apart and the body separates from the mouth-parts (teeth), re-grab the remaining piece attached to your skin, repeat beginning with step 2.

Bite Care

After the tick is removed, clean and disinfect the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, soap and water, or iodine scrub.

Parasite Disposal

After removing the tick, dispose of the creature by placing in a plastic bag or vial, or wrap the little critter in tape (medical or duct tape) before putting in the garbage. Refrain from attempting to crush the tick between your fingers as this will spread its body fluids and contaminants.

The Don’ts

Other ways people attempt to dislodge a tick include applying nail polish, petroleum jelly, insect repellent, lighter fluid, gasoline, or heat. The tick may react to these other persuasions, but take more time to dislodge from your skin than if you properly pull it out with tweezers, increasing the likely hood the parasite will inject more of its body fluids into you.

These methods decrease the chance of removing the whole tick successfully, and the increase the possibility of infection and disease.

Monitor the Bite Area

After a couple of days, if the bite area is still red, irritated, inflamed or infected, check with your doctor for further care.

Summer is here, time to get out and enjoy some great outdoor activities. Just remember, if you get a tick embedded in your skin, you have a surefire way to safely remove it.

Additional Resources

Tools

Pro Tick Remedy

Tick Ease Tick Remover

Tick Key

Tick Twister

Tweezers

Websites

Center for Disease Control (CDC)

WebMD.com

TickInfo.com

Videos on How to Correctly Remove a Tick

University of Manitoba

Tick Encounter Resource Center

Howcast

Books

Living Ready Pocket Manual – First Aid: Fundamentals for Survival – James Hubbard M.D., “The Survival Doctor”

All images are the authors or from the CDC.

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Robert Camp

Robert Camp turned his love of the outdoors into over 35 years of professional guiding and outdoor leadership. He has helped develop programs, lead trips, and taught for juvenile diversion programs, the U.S. military, The Sierra Club and many others.

4 thoughts on “Ticks: How to Safely Remove This Parasite From Your Skin”

  1. Tick horror story: Took my husband to the airport Sunday, noticed my neck and shoulder were a little sore, especially where the seatbelt touched, but attributed it to heavy lifting the day before. Saw nothing untoward upon retiring to bed, but the soreness increased, and by midnight I couldn’t sleep. Finally swung my hair out of the way and saw a black spot on my collarbone. The skin was black around an embedded tick (I am Caucasian), right on the collarbone, and of course no urgent care clinic was open at midnight in our small mountain town. So off to the Emergency Room, where they used an injected anesthetic, scalpel, and injected powerful antibiotic (to stave off Lyme Tick disease). $1000. Whew! I hadn’t worked outside since two days before, so we had to assume the tick had been attached at least 24 hours. Live and learn.

  2. I recently saw the after-effects of Lyme disease. I ran into a farmer acquaintance whom I hadn’t seen in a while, and he looked like death warmed over. Since he had a large bandage on his arm, I felt it was safe to ask if he’d gotten hurt. He proceeded to explain that he’d spent nearly 2 months in the hospital from a tick bite. His throat and one side of his face had been temporarily paralyzed. He’d needed a feeding tube into his stomach and had just recently begun eating solid foods (as in pudding and ice cream). He’d lost a noticeable amount of weight and was still on antibiotics. They hadn’t been able to give him an actual prognosis, and he knew that he might wind up back in the hospital with more complications. Since I haven’t seen him in several weeks, I’m afraid that’s what happened. I’ve never been all that afraid of ticks, but I am now.

  3. Put some dish detergent on a cotton ball and rub the tick gently in a circular motion. A few minutes later, the tick will release itself from your skin and you can flush it down the toilet with the cotton ball.

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