Ticks can ruin summer fun faster than ants at a picnic. These tiny eight-legged relatives of the spider are only about 1/8 inch in diameter but can have a big impact on your outdoor fun. See how to avoid ticks, how to remove them, and how to keep yourself safe from their sometimes dangerous bites.
The Problem with Ticks
Ticks are tiny parasites that consume blood to survive. If that thought alone isn’t terrifying enough, the real danger is that while they’re sucking your blood they can also insert their own germs into your body. Germs that can cause illnesses like Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Ehrlichiosis, and many more. Not all ticks transmit disease, but enough do that every bite should be taken seriously.
How to Avoid Ticks
Ticks are hard to avoid altogether: the only state in the US that doesn’t play host to some species of tick is Alaska. And while they’re most common and most active during warm weather, you can encounter ticks any time of year. So there’s really no absolute way to completely avoid ticks, but a few preventative measures can help:
- Since ticks are often found down low in grassy, brushy, wooded areas, try to walk in clearer areas like riverbanks or the center of recreational trails.
- Wear long socks and long pants – bonus points for safety (if not fashion) for tucking your pants into the socks.
- Wear closed-toe shoes, and tie up long hair.
- Treat your gear – clothing, boots, etc. – with FDA-approved insecticide permethrin (0.5% strength) as recommended by the CDC.
- Apply an insect repellant to any exposed skin – like these EPA approved
You took all of the precautions, but still, find a new and suspicious tiny brown spot on your body after spending time in nature. What now? First, don’t panic. A tick bite isn’t an automatic diagnosis of disease but does warrant concern.
Examine your entire body closely after spending time outdoors – early-stage ticks can be the size of a single poppy seed! Check everywhere, including areas that had been covered by clothing – and especially warm, moist areas like armpits and groin.
If you do find one, here’s how to safely remove it:
DON’T use home remedies that involve leaving the tick in place (such as covering it in nail polish or petroleum jelly) – you want to remove the tick as quickly as possible, not wait for it to detach on its own.
Identifying a Tick Bite
If you don’t find a tick but suspect that one has already bitten you and dropped off of your body, you might notice a small red bump similar to a mosquito bite. Although depending on your specific chemical makeup you might not have any reaction at all!
But if you do notice an itchy skin lesion that doesn’t resolve within a few days – especially if it’s surrounded by the telltale “bullseye” rings that can indicate Lyme disease – you might have been bitten by a tick, and should see a doctor immediately.
Medical Treatment for Tick Bites
Regardless of whether you’ve removed a tick or seen a bite, you should seek medical treatment if you experience any of these symptoms after spending time outdoors:
- Body and muscle aches
- Joint pain
- Stiff neck
- Facial paralysis
Don’t “wait-and-see” – early detection of Lyme and other tick-borne illness is critical to effective treatment and recovery!
Your doctor will give you a physical examination and might prescribe an antibiotic to prevent infection – especially in regions where Lyme disease is prevalent. If Lyme is suspected, a diagnosis can be confirmed by blood test and an appropriate course of treatment prescribed.
Like poison ivy and mosquitoes, tick bites are simply an unfortunate risk of being out in nature. But don’t let these little pests ruin your excitement about outdoor fun – a few precautions and diligent post-bite care can keep you safe this summer, and beyond.
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