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'Ticked' Off: Preventing and Treating Tick Bites

With warmer weather finally here, you may be looking forward to spending time outside; however, it is important to be aware of the risks of diseases that are spread by insects. One potentially serious illness transmitted by an insect is Lyme disease.

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is a tick-borne infection caused by a type of bacteria that is carried by black-legged ticks, also known as deer ticks. Ticks pass the bacteria on to humans when they bite and remain attached while consuming a blood meal. Though it can be a serious illness, if diagnosed early, Lyme disease can easily be treated with antibiotics.

How do I prevent Lyme disease?

The best way to avoid Lyme disease is to prevent exposure to ticks in the first place. Even though it is smart to be tick-aware year-round, be especially careful during warmer months when ticks are most active. Deer ticks are quite small and easy to overlook; larvae or nymphs can be the size of a pinhead, while full-grown females can be the size of a pencil eraser.

Here are a few tips to help you avoid ticks:

  1. When going outside, consider using an insect repellent that contains 20 percent to 30 percent DEET.

  2. Wear shoes and lightweight, long-sleeved clothing, even when it's warm. In addition to preventing ticks from getting directly on your skin, this can provide sun protection too.

  3. Take a shower as soon as you can after coming indoors.

  4. Look for ticks on your body or your family’s body. Ticks can hide under the armpits, behind the knees, in the hair and in the groin. Parents should also check children for ticks under the arms, in and around the ears, around the waist and especially in their hair.

  5. If you think you were exposed, when you come inside put your clothes in the dryer on high heat for 60 minutes to kill any stowaways.

  6. Don't forget to check your pets. Talk to your veterinarian about products that can discourage ticks from latching on to your dogs and cats.

What are the symptoms?

If you are bitten by a deer tick, keep an eye on the bite for signs of a rash, especially any that are bullseye-shaped. Like other bug bites, you may notice a small bump or redness that goes away in a few days; this does not mean that you have Lyme disease or another tick-borne disease.

However, if you notice a suspicious rash, develop a fever and chills, or experience unusual joint paint, make an appointment to talk to your doctor and be sure to mention the tick bite. They may order a blood test to make sure you were not infected.

Lyme disease is an inflammatory disease that can affect the skin, joints, nervous system and other organs. If Lyme disease is not caught early, it can also wreak havoc on many body systems and cause a myriad of seemingly unconnected symptoms, such as back pain, mental fog and low energy.

What should I do if I am bitten?

First of all, if you do find a tick attached to you, don't panic. Not all ticks are infected with the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, and research has shown that deer ticks usually don't begin transmitting the bacteria until 36 to 48 hours after they bite. That means your chances of contracting it can be greatly reduced if you remove a tick promptly.

You may have heard that matches, nail polish or petroleum jelly will make the tick pull away from the skin, but experts advise against these methods. To remove a tick, use tweezers to grasp the tick at the surface of your skin. Pull the tick straight up and out, and put it in a sealed container in case you need to take it to a doctor for testing. Clean the bite and surrounding area with soap and water or rubbing alcohol, and watch for any of the symptoms.

If you decide you need to get checked by your doctor, your medical team will ask you about your symptoms, take your temperature to check for a fever and examine the bite area. Next, they will draw blood to check for signs that you were exposed to the bacteria that causes LD. If you were infected, your doctor will likely prescribe a course of antibi-otics such as doxycycline or amoxicillin to treat the disease.

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