Ticks are small spiderlike animals (arachnids) that bite to fasten themselves onto the skin and feed on blood. Ticks live in the fur and feathers of many birds and animals. Tick bites occur most often during early spring to late summer and in areas where there are many wild animals and birds.
Most ticks don't carry diseases, and most tick bites don't cause serious health problems. But it is important to remove a tick as soon as you find it. Removing the tick's body helps you avoid diseases the tick may pass on during feeding. Removing the tick's head helps prevent an infection in the skin where it bit you. See Home Treatment for the best way to remove a tick.
Usually, removing the tick, washing the site of the bite, and watching for signs of illness are all that is needed.
Some people may have an allergic reaction to a tick bite. This reaction may be mild, with a few annoying symptoms. In rare cases, a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) may occur.
Many of the diseases ticks carry cause flu-like symptoms, such as fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, and muscle aches. Symptoms may begin from 1 day to 3 weeks after the tick bite. Sometimes a rash or sore appears along with the flu-like symptoms. Ticks are found worldwide and can carry many diseases, such as:
Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.
Symptoms of a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) may include:
A severe reaction can be life-threatening. If you have had a bad allergic reaction to a substance before and are exposed to it again, treat any symptoms as an emergency. Even if the symptoms are mild at first, they may quickly become very severe.
Symptoms of infection may include:
You may need a tetanus shot depending on how dirty the wound is and how long it has been since your last shot.
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and illness. Some examples in adults are:
Tick paralysis is a rare reaction to the venom that some ticks release when they bite. Symptoms usually start 4 to 7 days after a tick attaches to your body and may include:
Removing the tick stops the release of the venom and reverses the problem.
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical care.
Based on your answers, you need emergency care.
Call 911 or other emergency services now.
Sometimes people don't want to call 911. They may think that their symptoms aren't serious or that they can just get someone else to drive them. Or they might be concerned about the cost. But based on your answers, the safest and quickest way for you to get the care you need is to call 911 for medical transport to the hospital.
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Most ticks don't carry diseases, and most tick bites don't cause serious health problems. The sooner ticks are removed, the less likely they are to spread disease.
Some ticks are so small that it is hard to see them. This makes it hard to tell whether you have removed the tick's head. If you do not see any obvious parts of the tick's head in the bite site, assume you have removed the entire tick, but watch for signs of a skin infection.
When you return home from areas where ticks might live, carefully examine your skin and scalp for ticks. Check your clothing, outdoor gear, and pets, too. Remove any ticks you find. Then put your clothing in a clothes dryer on high heat for 1 hour to kill any ticks that might remain.
Try a nonprescription medicine to help treat your fever or pain:
Talk to your child's doctor before switching back and forth between doses of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. When you switch between two medicines, there is a chance your child will get too much medicine.
Be sure to follow these safety tips when you use a nonprescription medicine:
Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home treatment:
To prevent tick bites:
For information on how to specifically prevent Lyme disease, see the topic Lyme Disease.
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the following questions:
Current as of: October 19, 2020
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2021 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.