Most tick bites are painless and cause only minor signs and symptoms, such as a change in skin color, swelling or a sore on the skin.
But some ticks transmit bacteria that cause illnesses, including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. In general, to transmit Lyme disease a tick needs to be attached to a person’s skin for at least 36 hours. Other infections can be transferred in a few hours or even a few minutes.
To take care of a tick bite
- Remove the tick promptly and carefully. Use fine-tipped forceps or tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible. Gently pull out the tick using a slow and steady upward motion. Avoid twisting or squeezing the tick. Do not handle the tick with bare hands. Do not use petroleum jelly, fingernail polish or a hot match to remove a tick.
- Secure the tick and take a picture. A picture of the tick can help you and your health care provider identify what type it is and whether you are at risk of a transmitted disease. You can trap the tick in a piece of tape for disposal in the garbage. Your provider may want to see the tick or a photo if you develop new symptoms.
- Wash your hands and the bite site. Use warm water and soap, rubbing alcohol, or an iodine scrub.
When to seek emergency care
Call 911 or your local emergency number if you develop:
- A severe headache
- Difficulty breathing
- Heart palpitations
When to contact your doctor
- You aren’t able to completely remove the tick. The longer the tick remains attached to the skin, the greater the risk of getting a disease from it. Your skin may also get irritated.
The rash gets bigger. A small bump may appear at the site of the tick bite. This is typical. If it develops into a larger rash or you develop a rash anywhere, possibly with a bull’s-eye pattern, it may indicate Lyme disease. The rash usually appears within 3 to 14 days.
Consult your provider even if the rash disappears because you may still be at risk of having the disease. Your risk of contracting a disease from a tick bite depends on where you live or travel to, how much time you spend outside in woody and grassy areas, and how well you protect yourself.
- You develop flu-like signs and symptoms. Fever, chills, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, and a headache may accompany the rash.
- You think the bite site is infected. Signs and symptoms include pain, change in skin color or oozing from the site.
- You think you were bitten by a deer tick. You may need antibiotics.
If possible, bring the tick, or a photo of the tick, with you to your doctor’s appointment.
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Nov. 21, 2023
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- Tick prevention and property management. Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention, Division of Disease Surveillance. Accessed Oct. 14, 2021.
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