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How to Remove A Tick

a spider on a person's skin a spider on a person's skin

If you see a small brown bug attached to your child's skin, it may be a tick. A wood tick (dog tick) is the size of an apple seed. A deer tick is the size of a poppy seed or pinhead. After feeding on blood, ticks can swell to triple their size and are easier to see.

Most tick bites are harmless. However, wood ticks can sometimes pass on Rocky Mountain spotted fever or Colorado tick fever and deer ticks can sometimes pass on Lyme disease.

If a tick is still attached to the skin, it will need to be removed. Here's how:

Removing a wood tick

  • Use a tweezers and grasp the tick close to the skin (on its head).

  • Hold the tweezers sideways next to the skin surface.

  • Pull the wood tick straight upward without twisting or crushing it.

  • Maintain a steady pressure until it releases its grip.

  • Other options: If you don't have tweezers, you can use your fingers.You can also use a loop of thread around the jaws, or a needle pushed between the jaws for traction. Jaws are the part of the head attached to the skin.

  • Not helpful: Covering the tick with petroleum jelly or nail polish doesn't work. Neither does rubbing alcohol or a soapy cotton ball. Touching the tick with a hot or cold object also doesn't work.

How to remove the tick's head

  • If the wood tick's head breaks off in the skin, remove any large parts.

  • Clean the skin with rubbing alcohol.

  • Use a clean tweezers or needle to uncover the head and scrape it off.

  • If a small piece of the head remains, the skin will slowly shed it.

Removing a deer tick

  • If a deer tick is swollen, try to remove it with a tweezers.

  • If it is tiny, it needs to be scraped off.

  • Use the edge of a credit card.

What to do after you remove a tick

After you've removed a wood tick or deer tick, it's important to:

  • Wash the wound and your hands with soap and water after removal. This helps to prevent catching any disease carried by the tick.

  • Apply an antibiotic ointment such as Polysporin. No prescription is needed. Put it on the bite once.

Tick bite symptoms

Tick bites normally don't itch or hurt. That's often why they may not be noticed. The little bump goes away in 2 days.

If the tick transferred a disease, a rash will occur. It will appear in the next 2 to 4 weeks.

Call your pediatrician if:

  • You tried and can't remove the tick

  • Fever or rash happens in the next 4 weeks

  • Bite starts to look infected

  • You think your child needs to be seen

  • Your child becomes worse

How likely is Lyme disease from a tick bite

The risk of Lyme disease after a deer tick bite is low. Even in a high-risk area, the risk is about 2%.

Erythema migrans

If Lyme disease does develop, most infections (80%) start with a bull's eye rash. The medical name is erythema migrans (EM). The rash starts at the site of the tick bite. EM usually is solid red. Central clearing is present in 30%. EM starts on the average at 7 days. It grows larger quickly to more than 2 inches (5 cm) wide. It lasts 2 or 3 weeks.

On the average, Lyme disease starts 7 days after the bite, though it can develop any time between 3–30 days. Treatment of erythema migrans with an antibiotic is advised. This almost always prevents the development of later stages of Lyme Disease. Arthritis, heart disease and neurologic disease can occur if Lyme Disease is not treated.

Are antibiotics needed after a tick bite?

Giving an antibiotic after a deer tick bite to prevent Lyme disease depends on the risk. The risk is low with brief attachment. An antibiotic is not needed. The risk is high if the deer tick was attached for longer than 36 hours. It's also high if the tick is swollen, not flat. An antibiotic may be needed. Your doctor will help you decide.

How to help prevent tick bites

There are steps families can take to reduce the risk of tick bites:

Cover up

When hiking in tick-infested areas, wear long clothing. Tuck the ends of pants into socks.

Do tick checks at the end of each day.

Early removal of ticks within 36 hours can prevent Lyme disease.

Tick repellent for clothing: permethrin

  • Permethrin-containing products (such as Duranon, Permanone Tick Spray) are very good tick repellents.

  • An advantage over using DEET is that permethrin is used on clothing. Put it on clothes, especially pants, cuffs, socks and shoes. You can also put it on other outdoor items (mosquito screen, sleeping bags).

  • Do not put Permethrin on skin. Reason: it loses its ability to work once in contact with skin).

Tick repellent for skin: DEET

DEET is a good tick repellent. It can be used on skin not covered by clothing. Use 30% DEET for children and teens. Deet is approved for use in children over 2 months of age. Note: DEET protects for 6 hours.

More information

Last Updated
Tick Bite, Schmitt Pediatric Guidelines (Copyright © 2020)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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