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Adult Symptoms > > Tick Bite
Tick Bite


  • A tick (small brown bug) is attached to the skin
  • A tick was recently removed from the skin

General Information

  • The bite is painless and doesn't itch; so ticks may go unnoticed for a few days. Ticks eventually fall off on their own after sucking blood for 3 to 6 days.
  • Ticks can transmit many diseases, including Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF), and Colorado tick fever.
  • The Wood Tick (dog tick) is the size of a watermelon seed and can sometimes transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Colorado tick fever. The Lone Star tick is the same size and the most common vector for human monocytic ehrlichiosis. It also occasionally transmits Lyme disease.
  • The Deer Tick (black-legged tick) is between the size of a poppy seed (pin head) and an apple seed, and is the tick that usually transmits Lyme disease. A southern form of Lyme disease can be caused by contact with the Lone Star tick (this is a large tick).
  • Engorged ticks: After feeding on blood, both ticks become quite swollen and easy to see.

Lyme Disease

  • Lyme disease has become the most common tick-borne illness in the United States. The risk of Lyme disease following a recognized deer tick bite is estimated to be 1%.
  • The majority of cases of Lyme disease start with a bull's eye rash ("erythema migrans") at the site of the tick bite. The rash can occur days to weeks (typically 7-10 days) after a tick bite. Treatment with antibiotics is indicated if this rash appears. Flu-like symptoms may accompany the rash, including: fever, chills, headaches, muscle aches, and fatigue.
  • Removing ticks promptly may prevent Lyme disease.

See More Appropriate Topic (instead of this one) If


Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If

  • You feel weak or very sick
  • You can't remove the tick
  • You can't remove the tick's head that has broken off in the skin
    Note: if the removed tick is moving, it was completely removed)
  • Widespread rash occurs 2 to 14 days following the bite
  • Fever or severe headache occurs 2 to 14 days following the bite
  • Redness, red streak, or very tender area (to touch), and you also have a fever

Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) If

  • You think you need to be seen
  • Red-ring or bull's eye rash occurs around a tick bite
  • Probable deer tick and it was attached for more than 24 hours (or tick appeared swollen, not flat) and Lyme disease is common in your area
  • Fever occurring within 2 weeks of a tick bite
  • Headache or widespread rash occurring within 2 weeks of a tick bite
  • No tetanus booster in more than 10 years

Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours If

  • You have other questions or concerns

Self Care at Home If

  • Tick bite with no complications and you don't think you need to be seen


Home Care Advice for Tick Bite

  1. Wood Tick Removal:
    • Use a pair of tweezers and grasp the wood tick close to the skin (on its head). Pull the wood tick straight upward without twisting or crushing it. Maintain a steady pressure until it releases its grip.
    • If tweezers are not available, use fingers, a loop of thread around the jaws, or a needle between the jaws for traction.
    • Note: covering the tick with petroleum jelly, nail polish or rubbing alcohol doesn't work. Neither does touching the tick with a hot or cold object.
  2. Tiny Deer Tick Removal:
    • Deer ticks are very small and need to be scraped off with a credit card edge or the edge of a knife blade.
    • Place tick in a sealed container (e.g., glass jar, zip lock plastic bag), in case your doctor wants to see it.
  3. Tick's Head Removal:
    • If the wood tick's head breaks off in the skin, it must be removed. Clean the skin. Then use a sterile needle to uncover the head and lift it out or scrape it off.
    • If a very small piece of the head remains, the skin will eventually slough it off.
  4. Antibiotic Ointment: Wash the wound and your hands with soap and water after removal to prevent catching any tick disease. Apply an over-the-counter antibiotic ointment (e.g., bacitracin) to the bite once.
  5. Expected Course: Tick bites normally do not itch or hurt. That is why they often go unnoticed.
  6. Call Your Doctor If:
    • You can't remove the tick or the tick's head
    • Fever or rash occur in the next 2 weeks
    • Bite begins to look infected
    • You become worse

How to Prevent a Tick Bite

  1. Prevention - General:
    • Prevention is important if you are hiking in tick-infested areas.
    • Wear long pants and a long shirt. Tuck your shirt into your pants. Tuck the cuffs of your pants into your socks or boots. Light-colored clothing is better because the ticks can be seen more easily.
    • Inspect your entire body and your clothing every couple hours. Ticks like to hide in your hair; so be certain to check your scalp, neck, armpits, and groin.
    • A shower at the end of a hike will help rinse off any tick that is not firmly attached.
  2. Prevention with Insect Repellent - DEET:
    • DEET is a very effective tick repellent. It also repels mosquitoes and other bugs.
    • Apply to exposed areas of skin. Do not apply to eyes, mouth or irritated areas of skin. Remember to wash it off with soap and water when you return indoors.
    • Pregnant and breastfeeding women may use DEET. No problems have been reported. [Source: Insect Repellent Use and Safety, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]
    • Be certain to read the package instructions on any product that you use.
  3. Prevention with Insect Repellent for Your Clothing - Permethrin:
    • Permethrin-containing products (e.g., Duranon, Permanone, and Congo Creek Tick Spray) are highly effective mosquito repellents. They also repel ticks.
    • An advantage over using DEET is that they are applied to and left on clothing instead of skin. Apply it to clothes before putting them on. You can also put it on other outdoor items (shoes, mosquito screen, sleeping bags).
    • Do not apply permethrin to skin (Reason: it's rapidly degraded on contact with skin).
    • Be certain to read the package instructions on any product that you use.

And remember, contact your doctor if you develop any of the "Call Your Doctor" symptoms.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.

Author and Senior Reviewer: David A. Thompson, M.D.

Last Reviewed: 9/15/2011

Last Revised: 6/5/2011

Content Set: Adult HouseCalls Symptom Checker

Copyright 2000-2012. Self Care Decisions LLC; LMS, Inc.

Additional Resources:

 How to use the Adult Health Topics pages
 When to call the doctor
 Reviewers of Clinical Content

Disclaimer: The information contained in these topics is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, it is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.

Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider before starting any new treatment or discontinuing an existing treatment. Talk with your healthcare provider about any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Nothing contained in these topics is intended to be for medical diagnosis or treatment.

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