Tick Bites: Identification, Symptoms, and Treatment Options: Tick bites are often harmless and cause no symptoms. However, ticks can cause allergic reactions, and some ticks can transmit diseases when they bite humans and pets. These diseases can be dangerous or even fatal if not treated promptly.
Ticks are common in the United States. They live outside:
- The tree
- Pile of leaves
They are attracted to people and their four-legged pets and can move between the two with ease. If you’ve spent any time outdoors, you’ve likely encountered ticks at some point.
In this article, we help you identify ticks and tick bites with the symptoms of tick-borne diseases, and what to do if a tick bites you.
What do ticks look like?
Ticks are small, blood-sucking insects. They range in size from as small as the head of a pin to as large as a pencil eraser. A tick has eight legs. They are arachnids, which means they are related to spiders.
Different types of ticks can range in color from brown to reddish brown and black.
As they draw more blood, the ticks grow. At their largest, ticks can grow to the size of a marble. After the tick has fed on its host for several days, it swells and may turn green-blue.
Where do ticks bite people?
Ticks prefer warm, moist areas of the body. According to reliable sources from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), once a tick is on your body, it is likely to move to the following areas:
- Behind your knees
- Inside your belly button
- around your waist
- In and around your ears
However, ticks do not always migrate. If you are in a situation where you have had a tick bite, be sure to check your entire body.
When the tick reaches the desired location, it bites into your skin and begins to bleed. Unlike other insects that bite, ticks stay attached to your body after they bite you.
If a tick bites you, you’ll likely know because you’ll see a tick on your skin. You probably won’t feel the tick biting you because it’s biting.
After up to 10 days of bleeding from your body, a clot will detach and fall out.
It is important to contact your doctor as soon as possible after a tick bite, even if you have no symptoms.
For example, in areas of the country where Lyme disease is common, doctors may under certain conditions recommend that you get treated for Lyme disease after a tick bite before symptoms start.
How can you tell if you’ve been bitten by a tick?
Ticks can remain attached to the skin for up to 10 days after the first bite. Over time they become larger and easier to find.
Ticks usually bite once, rather than in clusters or streaks. Most harmless tick bites cause no physical signs or symptoms.
Some cause a red or colorless bump that looks similar to a mosquito bite.
A Lyme disease bullous rash can appear anywhere from 3 to 30 days after you are bitten. You may also see multiple spots. The rash may enlarge over several days, reaching up to 12 inches in width.
Symptoms of an allergic reaction to a tick bite
Tick bites are usually harmless and may not cause any symptoms. But if you are allergic to tick bites, you may experience:
- Pain or swelling at the bite site
- A rash
- Burning sensation at the bite site
- Shortness of breath, if you have severe allergies.
Symptoms of tick-borne diseases
Ticks can transmit potentially serious diseases to human hosts. Most signs or symptoms of a tick-borne illness will begin within a few days to a few weeks of a tick bite.
Possible symptoms of tick-borne diseases include:
- A red or discolored area or rash near the bite site
- It’s getting cold
- Itching all over the body
- Neck stiffness
- Muscle aches or pains
- Swollen lymph nodes
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Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever Symptoms
People who suspect they may have Rocky Mountain spotted fever should seek treatment as soon as they suspect it. Symptoms of Rocky Mountain spotted fever include:
- A sudden high fever around 102 or 103°F (38 to 39°C).
- Stomach pain
- Muscle pain
How are tick bites treated?
When you find a tick, the most important thing is to remove it. This can help prevent tick-borne illness. If you have an allergic reaction, do not remove it, as this may release more allergens and cause a worsening reaction.
After removing the tick, be sure to clean the area thoroughly with an antibacterial cleanser or ointment. Your doctor may want to send the tick to a lab to analyze what type it is, and to determine if any pathogens are present.
Place the tick in a lidded jar or sealed ziplock bag and bring it with you to your doctor’s appointment.
Treatment will depend on whether you are having an allergic reaction to a tick bite, or a tick-borne illness.
When to contact a doctor
Contact your doctor as soon as possible after a tick bite. A doctor can determine if any treatment is necessary, based on the type of tick you have.
Different parts of the country have different risks when it comes to tick-borne diseases. If you live in an urban area that does not have many ticks and you are bitten elsewhere, your general practitioner may not be able to easily identify the tick. If this is the case and you are concerned, get a second opinion about treatment.
Tell your doctor if you were bitten in a geographic area known for severe tick-borne diseases, such as the western or northeastern United States.
You should also tell your doctor if you develop any of the following symptoms after your tick bite:
- Erythema multiforme rashes
- Sore muscles
How can you prevent infection from tick bites?
- Preventing tick bites is the best way to prevent tick-borne disease. Here are some prevention tips:
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants when walking in forested or grassy areas where ticks are common.
- Walk in the middle of the trails.
- Use a tick repellent that is at least 20 percent DEET.
- Treat clothing and gear with 0.5 percent permethrin.
- Shower or bathe within 2 hours of going out.
- After ticks are in prone areas, check the skin closely, especially under the arms, behind the ears, between the legs, behind the knees and in the hair.
It usually takes more than 24 hours for a person to contract a tick-borne illness. So, the sooner you can identify and remove the tick, the better.
Frequently Asked Questions About Tick Bites
Do tick bites itch?
A tick bite can cause immediate severe itching in some people due to the toxins in the tick saliva and the itching. However, itching is not always present. For this reason, if you spend time in a tick-infested area, it’s important to check your entire body for ticks after you leave.
If a tick bite leads to Lyme disease, it can also lead to the development of skin lesions known as erythema migrans (EM). These often do not trigger further symptoms, but some people report that they feel itching and burning in the area of the wound.
If you don’t see a ring around a tick bite, could you have Lyme disease?
Yes. An EM rash is often a sure sign that you’ve been bitten by a Lyme disease tick. However, not everyone gets a rash. Because it doesn’t itch or hurt, it’s possible to have an itch and not notice it.
Can ticks carry diseases other than Lyme disease?
Yes. Ticks can carry many diseases such as Rocky Mountain Fever. Tick-borne diseases vary by geographic region.
Where do ticks live?
Ticks live outside. They hide in grass, trees, shrubs and underbrush.
If you are hiking or playing outside, a tick can attach itself to you or your pet. Ticks can stay attached to your pet, or migrate to you when you touch or hold your pet. They can also attach themselves to your pets without leaving you.
Different types of ticks live in large populations throughout the country. Most states have at least one type of tick that lives there. Tick populations peak in the spring and summer months, usually from April to September.
Tick bites are often asymptomatic and harmless. However, ticks can carry harmful diseases such as Lyme disease.
If you notice a bullous rash, fever, chills, and body aches, it’s important to ask your doctor about the next steps.
You can treat tick bites by using 20 percent DEET or 0.5 percent permethrin, wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants in tick-prone areas, and staying away from the edges of any walking trails where ticks hide.