How to safely remove a tick

Hint: Skip the ‘home remedies’

It’s the time of year when a walk in the woods or time spent outside can lead to a tick or two on your body. Ronald Paul, M.D., division chief of emergency medicine at Norton Children’s Hospital and professor of pediatrics at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, explains how to spot ticks and remove them safely.

“Ticks are all different sizes, so giving your child and yourself a good once-over at the end of a day of play is important,” Dr. Paul said. “This can be done during bath time for children or when getting cleaned up and ready for bed.”

Most ticks can be seen relatively easily, but they do like to hide in hair on the scalp and warmer areas such as armpits. Dr. Paul advises that parents look for black bumps on the skin and scalp. Ticks will start to imbed into the skin headfirst.

If you spot a tick, use the tried-and-true method to remove it.

“Home remedies are not recommended,” Dr. Paul said. “The old wives’ tales of using petroleum jelly, dish soap and other strategies are not as effective and can cause skin irritation.”

According to Dr. Paul, in a clinical setting he would use a curved hemostat or small forceps, but at home parents can use tweezers to remove the tick.

Get the tweezers as close to the head of the tick as possible. Then pull directly up and away from the skin to remove the tick. If you have a hold of it tightly, it should come out intact, including the head.

Dr. Paul warns not to pull at the body of the tick, because squeezing the body can allow the tick to regurgitate the contents back into the bite, possibly causing infection. It also increases the chance the head will detach and stay imbedded in the skin.

If the tick was not successfully removed and you can still see or feel part of it on the skin, then you’ll need to continue to try to remove it

“Similar to a small splinter, you’ll need to take a sharp item, such as a sewing needle, to help remove any final debris,” Dr. Paul said. “Be sure to clean the sharp item first with rubbing alcohol, then gently go under the skin and pick out the small remaining pieces.”

Once the tick has been completely removed, remember the skin has been opened, so there is a risk for infection. Be sure to wash the affected area with warm soap and water.

In rare cases, swelling and redness may develop at the site of the bite — a sign there could be an infection. In those instances see your physician for further treatment, which may include an antibiotic.

“If further symptoms develop, such as fever, body aches, headache or rash — specifically a bull’s eye-shaped rash around the bite — seek immediate medical treatment,” Dr. Paul said. “These may be symptoms of Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever, conditions associated with tick bites.”

Lyme disease is rare in Kentuckiana, however the risk for Rocky Mountain spotted fever is higher. According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Rocky Mountain spotted fever diagnoses are highest among males, American Indians and people age 40 and older. Individuals with frequent exposure to pets who spend time outdoors and people who live near high grass or wooded areas may be at increased risk for infection. Children under 10 years old, people with compromised immune systems and people who receive delayed treatment are at an increased risk of a fatal outcome from Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

Dr. Paul explains that the first symptoms of Rocky Mountain spotted fever begin two to 14 days after being bitten by an infected tick.

“Most tick bites are usually painless, and about half of the people who develop Rocky Mountain spotted fever do not remember being bitten,” Dr. Paul said. “The disease frequently begins with a sudden onset of fever and headache resulting in a visit to the doctor during the first few days of symptoms. Because early symptoms may be nonspecific, several visits may occur before the diagnosis is made and correct treatment begins.”


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