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Tick bites

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 3 minutes read

Ticks are small, spider-like creatures that feed on the blood of animals and humans. They are found in areas of long grass and vegetation and sometimes even gardens. Ticks latch on when someone or something brushes past them, where they bite and start to feed. They will drop off once they have finished their feed, but this can be days later.

Tick bites are important to be aware of, as they can transmit bacteria leading to infections such as Lyme disease.

Simple self-help can go a long way, and after being out for a walk, it is recommended to perform a quick ‘tick check’ and make sure that you haven’t brought a tick home with you. A good look and feel, including places like the groin and hairlines, will help make sure you stay tick-free.

Next steps

It is important that ticks are removed swiftly to prevent the spread of disease. Tick bites are not painful because the tick’s saliva contains a local anesthetic that is injected into the skin.

Studies show that ticks normally need to be attached for between six and 36 hours to transmit Lyme disease, but the small size of a nymph means it can often go unnoticed until it has been feeding for a lengthy period and is engorged. Sometimes it will drop off before the host realizes they have been bitten.

Keep in mind the following steps to prevent tick bites:

  • wear long-sleeve tops and trousers tucked into socks (or long socks)
  • wear light-colored clothing so ticks can easily be spotted and brushed off
  • keep to footpaths and avoid long grass when out walking
  • use an insect repellent containing DEET on exposed skin
  • check for ticks after outdoor activities and remove any as promptly as possible
  • check children’s heads and neck areas, including their scalp
  • check pets regularly to ensure they do not bring ticks into the home

Healthwords pharmacists' top tips

Preventing a tick bite is always better than having to deal with one.

If you spot a tick, you must remove it carefully, as the head can remain stuck while you have taken the body off, and it will continue to feed.

A tick removal tool, held close to the skin, is the best method to remove the entire tick. If you don't have one handy, try a pair of pointy tweezers – hold them as close to the part of the tick next to the skin as possible and ease it off with a gentle motion straight up. Freezing the tick off is another technique. Freeze applicators to treat warts and verrucae can do the job.

Once the tick has been removed, it is recommended to be disposed of safely, and wrapped in tape.

For calming any redness or itching, you can apply a soothing antihistamine cream or take a tablet.

Am I fit for work?

You are fit for work if you have been bitten by a tick and feel well.

When should I see my doctor?

In a minority of cases, ticks can carry bacteria that can lead to infections such as Lyme disease. If you have been bitten by a tick, or think you may have been bitten by a tick, there are some signs to watch out for that can indicate the need to see your doctor. If you have a rash that looks like a bullseye, you should take a photo and ask your doctor to have a look.

Similarly, if you have found a tick and develop flu-like symptoms, you should consult with your doctor urgently, who may send you for a blood test or prescribe antibiotic tablets.

There is no need to take antibiotics after a tick bite if you have no other symptoms, but just keep a watch for any symptoms over the next few days to weeks.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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